Browsing Category

Accommodation

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.

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.

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.

Accommodation Destinations Middle East United Arab Emirates

Win a Nights Accommodation at Danat Jebel Dhanna, UAE!

February 22, 2017
danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review beach

Love holidays as much as we do?  If so, we want to help!

Accommodation Luxury Middle East Oman Reviews

Living It Up in Muscat, Oman – Pure Luxury at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa

February 19, 2017

The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, sitting just 20 minutes out of Muscat, represents pure luxury in the Sultanate of Oman.  So much more than just a resort, there is no delaying denying where you are – this hotel offers world-class hospitality, the most incredible Omani backdrop and a range of services to ensure your holiday is one you’ll never forget.

Arabian perfection at its finest.  

Don’t take our word for it though – read on to find out exactly why we fell in love with Muscat’s Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

A First Impression to Remember

Occasionally a sight takes your breath away.  Our first visit to Barr Al Jissah, Oman, in September of 2015 did exactly that.

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

From our perch atop sheer cliffs, azure blue waves washing gently upon the shore, we couldn’t help but wonder  – why don’t more people know about the beauty of Oman and its people?

Unsurprisingly, word is spreading!  This year it was recognised as one of the top 10 countries to visit in 2017 (by Lonely Planet, no less).

As we stood, then and there, we agreed that not only would we return to Muscat, but that the Shangri-La was precisely where we had to stay.

On our second visit back to this gorgeous part of North-Eastern Oman, we made good on our promise to return and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Shangri-La exceeded all of our already-high expectations.

Arriving at The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa

As you would expect, check-in was a pleasure thanks to friendly and efficient staff who graciously showed us around this touch of paradise (even if it was ours only for a weekend).

The unmistakable smell of oud floating through the air, glistening marble and intricate, ornate archways and ceilings; it was clear we had arrived somewhere special.

Perfectly situated in between the Sea of Oman and a dramatic mountainous backdrop, the five-star Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa spans an impressive 124 acres of prime Arabian real estate, providing guests with three unique but cohesive accommodation experiences.

640 beautifully appointed rooms and suites are spread between the exclusive Al Husn Hotel (The Castle), Al Bandar Hotel (The Town) and the family-oriented hotel, Al Waha (The Oasis), ensuring that all guests, whether visiting for business or pleasure, are perfectly catered for.

Every element of each hotel has been carefully considered; from the perfect beachfront setting to the Omani architecture, the incredible hospitality to the well matched outlets on site – it’s all designed for maximum enjoyment.

“When combining our delivery of Shangri-La’s legendary hospitality from the heart together with the warm welcome and hospitality of the Omani people, it is an unbeatable combination.” – Juergen Doerr, General Manager, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Sultanate of Oman

Dining Options

A range of world-class restaurants, cafes and bars are spread between the three hotels, providing 21 different food and beverage experiences, each one unique.

Over the course of our stay, we visited three different restaurants and were delighted by all of them.  With pricing much more affordable than expected, we were able to treat ourselves to delicious food without ever thinking about our wallets which is always appreciated.

Sultanah

Each morning we enjoyed breakfast out on the deck of the Sultanah restaurant.  Included alongside the expansive buffet was an à la carte menu far exceeding anything we’ve come across at another included hotel breakfast – freshly poached snapper and steak cooked to perfection – nothing was too much trouble.

Circles

Looking for a casual late lunch we made ourselves at home outside by one of the Shangri-La’s beautiful pools.  As we’d hoped, lunch was tasty and filling – we were pleasantly surprised by just how large the portions and how reasonable the prices were.  A clear winner if you’re looking for a relaxed bite to eat during the day whilst enjoying beautiful views.

Asia

With options abound we settled on a visit to Asia for dinner – the collection of Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Chinese dishes were too good to resist.  Each plate was delicious, perfectly cooked and seasoned and again, served in generous portions.  The satay skewers were amongst the best I’ve ever tasted and Nathan couldn’t stop raving about the crab salad he had as an entree.  Warm and comforting, the food at Asia was exactly what we were after.

Unwinding at the Shangri-La

Once you’ve enjoyed a tasty bite to eat, there are plenty of options to help you relax including

  • two private beaches
  • six freshwater swimming pools (literally some of the nicest we’ve ever seen!)
  • mini golf
  • four tennis courts
  • a health club and spa
  • a well appointed kids zone (let them go to town whilst you unwind)
  • a marina and dive centre
  • water sports including kayaking, snorkelling and sailing
  • an Omani heritage village and
  • a library.

With so much to do, the relatively isolated location of the resort is not a problem in the slightest.  Both Nathan and I are generally active holiday-seekers and there was more than enough for us to do without stepping foot out of the resort.  We had in fact planned to head into town but opted to stay within the complex instead, making the most of the options on offer there.

How many resorts have you been to where you can ride a camel and Arabian horse along the beach or drift from one gorgeous hotel to another along a lazy river?

Al Husn – An Exclusive, Adults-Only Haven

Though we explored all three of the Shangri-La hotels during the course of our stay, we loved returning to Al Husn, the most exclusive part of the resort.

As guests at Al Husn, everyone is treated like absolute royalty – to be frank, it’s been hard adjusting back to the real world again.

All guests of the hotel enjoy a complimentary minibar (with an assortment of soft drinks, juices and imported beers), snacks, fresh fruit and flowers in their room, all replenished daily.  In addition, Al Husn visitors receive adults-only access to the resort’s private beach and the most incredible infinity pool, perched high above the clifftop.  After a day spent (as busy or relaxed as you please), invitations to high tea and and pre-dinner drinks & canapés are extended, all at no additional cost.

Absolutely everything is thought of at Al Husn.

Need a ride somewhere? Golf carts are on hand to help out (though we chose to walk and take in our gorgeous setting in a more leisurely way).

Relaxing by the pool?  Pick up an individually packed chilly-bin, filled with cool water, juice and Evian facial spray.

Heaven on earth!

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

Our Room a Al Husn Deluxe Seaview Room

Our room was as spacious as it was gorgeous – everything you would expect from a five-star resort like the Shangri-La.

With a generous dressing room, bathroom (which included a powerful rain-shower and a full bathtub and a selection of amazing L’Occitane products) and lounge area there was more than enough space to relax inside our room.  Combine that with a fully equipped desk, complimentary wi-fi, Bose sound system, wide-screen TV with a wide selection of international channels, a comfortable king-size bed and fresh fruit and flowers topped up daily (oh and remember that complimentary mini-bar?), it would have been hard to find a reason to actually leave the room in a lesser resort!

Would we Return to the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa?

Without hesitation!

There’s something about Oman that just steals your heart away – if you’ve not considered visiting, add this beautiful country to your bucket-list now.  While you’re at it, book yourself a room at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa – hotels just don’t get better.

When all was said and done, we left for the second time with a promise to return and no doubt, we will.


If you’re headed to Oman, be sure to pin this post for future reference.  This is a resort that you don’t want to miss out on!

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

Thank you to the Shangri-La for so generously hosting the majority of our stay.  As always, all thoughts expressed are our own.  

Supplementary photographs have been supplied by the Shangri-La – unfortunately the weekend that we visited, the GCC experienced one of the few storms of the season.  The grey skies didn’t represent the gorgeous weather that’s typical of the region year-round and we wanted to show you exactly how it looked on our first visit.

Abu Dhabi Accommodation Expat Life Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

A 2.5 Hour Drive from Abu Dhabi but a World Away: Jebel Dhanna’s Beachfront Paradise

February 9, 2017
danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review

Only two and a half hours from the buzz of Abu Dhabi City, you’ll find Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort, a welcome reprise from the rush of everyday life.

Located on the shore of the mainland, opposite Sir Bani Yas Island, guests benefit from many of the perks of being near this natural reserve without the often-hefty price tag of the resorts on the island.

We spent a weekend at the Danat Jebel Dhanna and wanted to share our honest thoughts with those of you living in the UAE or planning a visit to Abu Dhabi.  Read on to find out what we thought…

Arriving at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

After a comfortable 2.5 hour drive from Abu Dhabi, following the coast West past the sand dunes, we arrived at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort to begin our weekend of relaxation (and fun!)

As you would expect from a hotel of this calibre, check-in was a breeze and from the moment we arrived until the moment we left the staff greeted us with wide smiles and open arms.  This resort perfectly combines luxury with an unpretentious ease – if you want to dress up, you won’t be out of place but if you’re there to unwind after a busy week, you’ll also feel comfortable walking around in your trackies.

The grounds of the resort are fairly extensive and there’s lots of grass to relax on (a surprisingly significant treat when you live in the desert) along with beautifully maintained gardens.  The star of the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort is, without doubt, the gorgeous seafront location though – the water was absolutely stunning and calm, both day and night.  It’s there’s an oil refinery that sits out on the horizon but it doesn’t impact the view badly – in fact, seeing it lit up at night, it was surprisinly beautiful out on the water.

Our own Private Oasis

The rooms at Danat Jebel Dhanna are generously sized and all benefit from fantastic views out over the gardens and opposing beach (which genuinely has the clearest, most gorgeous water we’ve seen in the Middle East!)

With plenty of room to lounge, a desk to work from and a beautiful deck, spending time in our room as a pleasure, though I must admit, it was hard dragging ourselves out of the incredibly plush bed each morning – it was definitely up there with some of the best we’ve slept in.

The bathroom was also well-sized and included all of the amenities a guest could need – a shave kit, loofah and moisturiser along with all of the standard inclusions you would expect of a five-star hotel.

danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review room

Dining Options at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

Zaitoun

Serving contemporary Italian fare in an intimate and homely setting we were delighted to find a restaurant serving such delicious food so far out of Abu Dhabi.  We decided on the three course set menu and with complimentary bread and nibbles and large portion sizes, came away very full and very happy!

L’Attitude

If you’re looking for a relaxed adults-only spot to enjoy your evening, you’ll want to head to L’Attitude.  Delicious food served pub-style,  a live band (that featured three amazing singers and lots of classic tunes!) and tropical cocktails, we had a great night in there.

Tides

Tides is the main restaurant servicing the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort and it’s open right through the day to ensure nobody goes hungry.

Every morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast which included a wide selection of options at the buffet along with freshly made plates (waffles, pancakes and omelettes anyone?) and for lunch we were pleased to see a range of options including curries, Arabic barbecue, meat cooked to order, salads, soups and much more.

Restaurants in other parts of the world could really learn a thing or two from buffets in the United Arab Emirates – they do them incredibly well!

C-View

The best option if you’re looking for a treat in between meals or need a coffee hit.  When the sun goes down, they also serve a full selection of alcoholic drinks – all with views out over the garden – what a spot to relax.

Who is Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort Best Suited For?

Familes with Children

The resort is especially well set up to cater to the needs of families.  With a playground, kids club and a wading pool, there’s plenty to keep the little ones engaged and happy.

Though there’s plenty for kids to do at the hotel we were never once disturbed by them – all of the children there were well-behaved, respectful and well-occupied, making it not only good for families but for anyone planning a getaway.

Those Looking to be Pampered

Nathan loves a good massage and when he comes out saying he’s just had the best massage of his life, you know you’re onto a seriously good thing!  We settled on a Swedish and aromatherapy massage respectively and for an hour let all of our worries melt away (though let’s face it, when your weekends look like this, you don’t have too much to worry about!)

Active Relaxers

If your idea of relaxing involves expelling a little more energy, you’ll have plenty of options at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort!

Over the course of our visit we jumped onboard their boat to go snorkelling out above their local reef and zipped around on the banana boat (which was really much more of a giant hotdog – fun!).  There’s also a basketball court, tennis and squash courts, volleyball, a swimming pool, kayaks, a full gym and the option of additional motorized watersports (wakeboarding or waterskiing, anyone?)

Would we Recommend Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort?

If we could be there right now, we would be, so yes, we definitely recommend you check this beautiful seaside spot out.  It’s not the newest of hotels but set out of the city, on a stunning beach, with fantastic activity options, tasty food and staff that go above and beyond to make you feel at home, it ticks all of the boxes for us!


Only 2.5 hours drive from Abu Dhabi, we found paradise!

We were guests of Danat Hotels and spent the weekend at the resort for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own and 100% honest.

Accommodation Activities Asia Back Packing Destinations Historical Sites Itineraries Sri Lanka Travel

Finding Our Way Around Sri Lanka… A Nine Day Guide to Paradise

January 31, 2017
9 day Sri Lanka Itinerary

Headed to Sri Lanka?  If so, snuggle up on your sofa and dig into Sarah’s post – it will give you all the basics you need to plan your trip and then some!  It’s a beauty of a post and will help ensure you maximise your time on this island paradise.  Happy planning!

I find sometimes the best trips, are the ones that allow for flexibility.  These trips generally require you to have a little more time and a little more patience especially when you run into challenges (because, really, who knows if you’ll find suitable accommodation for the night?) but they do always seem a little more rewarding.

Sri Lanka was no different – a friend and I packed our backpacks with a vague plan in place, a nights accommodation booked at the start (and two nights at a beach resort towards the end of our stay) and we hit the road.  Other than our lonely planet guide book, and our good attitudes we had nothing else planned or booked, and it was the best nine days full of laughter and exploration!

Sri Lanka is absolutely stunning, as are the people, who are definitely some of the friendliest and most helpful people I have encountered throughout my travels.  Sri Lanka holds everything a traveler desires – natural beauty that dramatically changes throughout the country, diverse culture, an interesting history and some beautiful historical monuments.


A Nine Day Sri Lankan Itinerary

  • Day One: Arrive in Colombo early morning, transfer to Kegalle to spend the day at the Elephant Freedom project & spice gardens.
  • Day Two: Bus to Kandy.  Sightseeing + Kandyan dancers & drummers
  • Day Three: Day trip to Sigiriya Rock & Dambulla Caves + overnight at Adam’s Peak
  • Day Four: Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage + drive to Nuwara Eliya and Ayurveda
  • Day Five: Bike ride around the tea plantations and train ride to Haputale
  • Day Six: Lipton’s Seat and a tour of the Dambatenne Tea Factory.  Overnight in Tangella
  • Day Seven: Beach Day!
  • Day Eight: Beach Day and then bus to Colombo
  • Day Nine: Ministry of Crab with an evening flight home.

Transport

Getting around Sri Lanka is an adventure!  Even though nothing is really far in terms of distance, due to the state of the roads, the mountainous areas, and the lack of infrastructure it is a time consuming and at times scary endeavour.

Buses:

Buses are the typical way to get around Sri Lanka but they can be an uncomfortable, stop-start experience.  Travel on buses can differ significantly depending on the journey you are taking.

Buses around town and between villages are chaotic and completely different from riding a bus in the western world.  With local music blaring, the colourful, rickety buses cruise down one lane roads jammed-packed with as many people the bus can hold (and then some) – all sense of personal space a distant memory.  Each bus is decorated around the driver’s booth with various posters, religious items, and sometimes even a screen for the passengers to watch movies and music videos.  It can be a slow journey with no official bus stops.  Instead, passengers wave down the buses, or indicate to the drivers where they want to get off, at which point the driver will slow down and the passengers will disembark whilst the bus is still moving (which can be tricky for a traveller loaded down with luggage – good luck!)  Air conditioning is a distant memory, instead ventilation is provided through opened windows and lunch is catered by the various vendors hopping on and off the buses, selling corn and boiled eggs.  It’s a totally unique experience and is definitely the cheapest way to get around with a typical bus journey costing around RS50 (Sri Lankan Rupees) – or NZD0.50/USD0.35 depending on where you’re from.

Intercity buses are generally air-conditioned coaches that depart and arrive at typical bus stations.  The bus stations are hectic and full of people, and it can be a little tricky to locate your bus but don’t worry!  Your bus won’t leave on time, in fact it will generally sit there until they have sold all the seats, so you’ll have plenty of time to get organised.  These buses mostly use designated bus stops making the journey a little faster, and are super affordable with a 3 hour coach journey costing around RS860, (NZD8/USD5.80)

Trains:

Trains in Sri Lanka have limited routes and have been around since the British built the lines in the nineteenth century.  While they are competitively priced (at similar prices to the buses), they are far superior in terms of comfort.  Though the trains can be slower and there can be substantial delays on the lines, the views and scenery are definitely worth the wait, especially a train ride in the Hill Country.  This train runs through Kandy, Nanu Oya and Ella and whilst the weather wasn’t ideal the day caught the train, the views were every bit as spectacular as we were told to expect.

There are three different train classes, with second and third class being quite similar (the main difference being you can’t reserve seats in third class).  There are several different first class tickets you can get depending on your requirements and these tickets can be booked in advance.

It would appear that that first class tickets can get booked out fairly quickly though and as it turned out, we were more than happy with our third class tickets (which we took due to a lack of available seats at the time).  Fortunately we were traveling outside of peak season and had no issues getting a seat, so didn’t experience the overcrowding on the train which we’d heard can be less than desirable (not everyone ends up with a seat in these cases!)

Tuk Tuks:

Our favourite type of transport (and the most popular type of transport for short journeys), tuk tuks are readily available and can be a novel way to get around.  Make sure to negotiate your price before embarking on your trip as some drivers can and will overcharge you – don’t be scared to bargain with the drivers and if you aren’t happy with the price try the fifty or so other drivers waiting close by.  In general tuk tuks charge around RS50/kilometre, and in Colombo the tuk tuks are metered to ensure a fair fare.

Drivers and Cars:

This option is increasingly popular due in part to how frustrating the transport system in Sri Lanka can be.  You can hire a driver and a car for a one off journey or for your entire trip.  Hiring a driver makes your journey flexible and saves you time but be sure to negotiate as these drivers can be highly inflated – in fact for one of our trips we managed to knock over RS2000 off our journey.

Drivers that stay with you for the duration of the trip take a bit of effort to organise and prices vary depending of the quality and size of the car (and the types of accommodation you are staying in).  Many hotels will have a drivers room to accommodate your driver but if not, you will need to account for the additional cost of booking him/her a room.

Looking for a driver for your trip?  Blue Lanka Tours can help you organise your perfect trip including drivers.  Our friends used this company and though they were on the expensive side they were very happy with both the service and their trip overall.  Their driver, Roshan Liyange was knowledgeable and (in our brief encounter with him) we found him to be a very safe and thoughtful driver.


Accommodation:

Throughout our stay we stayed in various types of accommodation – hostels, home-stays, B&Bs, and beach cabanas.  Whilst the majority of this accommodation isn’t worth mentioning, the few that are we have included below.

Tangella: Palm Paradise Cabanas

Wanting a few days to relax and unwind before heading back to work made the Palm Paradise Cabanas the perfect choice.  The cabanas are set in gorgeous natural setting with a view to the ocean showing through the tropical trees and plants.  The whole area is beautiful and the cabanas had great facilities, providing a relaxing and tranquil ending to our trip.

The cabanas themselves were quite basic but very charming.  The one we opted for had no air conditioning which made it a little difficult to sleep at night due to the heat, however they had a range of options available and all rooms had several fans (plus the more modern villas and houses included air conditioning).

We were fortunate to have a cabana with views straight to the ocean and only a 200m walk to the sea.  It was so peaceful and relaxing going to sleep with the sound of the waves lapping against the beach – seriously, the stuff of dreams!

The beach itself was absolutely gorgeous – the ocean is a little rough but Palm Paradise also has a pool if you’re looking for calmer water.  Although the beach is open to the public, it wasn’t very busy and we enjoyed our time there.

Breakfast was included at the hotel and the food was fantastic!  Each day we had fresh fruit, orange juice, tea and coffee plus eggs of our choice.  There isn’t much around the hotel in terms of bars and restaurants, but the food is great at both the restaurants so there isn’t much need to venture outside of the grounds if you don’t want to.

If you’re looking for a place to unwind for a few days, Palm Paradise Cabanas could be a great option.

Colombo: Clock Inn Hostel

Clock Inn Hostel was perfect for our brief time in Colombo.  We just needed somewhere to sleep for a few hours, between our night out and heading to the airport to catch our flight.  It was a clean hostel, having several common areas and friendly staff.  Each bed had a reading light, and a locker assigned to them (which I always appreciate when staying in a hostel).

Breakfast was included but unfortunately I’m not able to comment on the standard as I slept through the allocated time! The only downside for some would be the unisex communal bathrooms where the wasn’t much room inside the showers to get dressed.


Activities and Sightseeing

Kegalle and The Elephant Freedom Project

Kegalle is located between Colombo and Kandy – the main reason people head to this area is to visit the famed Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.  After doing some research on the Elephant Orphanage we decided that it wasn’t the place for us and after some more research we found out about The Elephant Freedom Project.  The EFP claims to hire Elephants from their owners to give them a chance of freedom away from the logging industry and other terrible work many elephants see on a day to day basis and though it’s not perfect, the elephants certainly get a better life than they would elsewhere.

At the project you volunteer for the day, starting your day by mucking out the elephant enclosure, before walking with the elephants in the village.  After a home cooked meal (that you’ll help prepare,) you will bathe the elephants in the river before bidding farewell to the team.

If you’re wanting to spend time with the elephants, be sure to do your research.

Kandy

Arriving at the bus station (with no accommodation booked) we headed to the tourist information located next to the train station to ask them to ring ahead to the Burmese Rest.  This guesthouse sounded unique – there monks look after the guesthouse whilst tortoises wander the courtyard.

Unfortunately the tourist information centre wasn’t able to give us their opinions on accommodation, or ring ahead to see if they had space but after negotiating a price with a tuk tuk driver, we headed there regardless to see if we could secure a bed for the evening.  Unfortunately they were undergoing restoration work and were unable to accommodate us so our tuk tuk driver whisked us off to our second choice of accommodation which thankfully had room for us.

This little expedition gave us our first glimpse of a Sri Lankan city – Kandy was bustling around the bus station and the centre of town, and we were in fits of laughter as our tuk tuk weaved in and out of traffic.  The city itself is set around a gorgeous lake and a stroll around the waters edge to the centre of town was a great way to settle in, although we were a little nervous of the monkeys darting from tree to tree!  Once in town we explored the Main Market and the busy centre, before heading to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and attending an early evening Kandayan dance performance.

Sigiriya and Dambulla

Both of these sites are included within Sri Lanka’s ancient cities and we were disappointed that weren’t able to explore this area more due to our limited timeframe.

Sigirya is an immense rock that is thought to have once housed an ancient civilisation – it’s a beautiful site that takes around half a day to explore.  The grounds and various frescos are gorgeous and the climb to the top of the rock, though relatively steep, is manageable.

Dambulla is a rock temple that, despite its throngs of tourists, is still an important holy place.  It was an incredible site and one not to be missed.

Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is a mountain located in central Sri Lanka, famed for the ‘sacred footprint’ (though just who the footprint belongs to will differ depending on your religions beliefs).  You will find this footprint in a rock formation near the summit of the mountain but to get there you will first need to trek to the top with many pilgrims and tourists.  With the mountain rising to 2,243m, it can be a challenging walk and the roughly 5200 steps will see your legs shaking at the bottom, regardless of your fitness level.

Nuwara Eliya & Hauputale

Both of these places are located in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country.  This whole region is absolutely stunning, with lush green scenery and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. The frequent fog gives the area an almost mystical feeling, but once the fog lifts you will be in absolute awe of the beauty that you find yourself surrounded by.

Both places (and the whole region for that matter) offer ample opportunities to visit tea plantations and to see the inner workings of a tea factory.  We found this experience very informative and intriguing.

In Nuwara Eliya we hired bikes from our accommodation and rode through the town sometimes referred to as ‘Little England’.  Here we biked past old English gardens and colonial houses, before hitting the tea plantations.  It would have been a tranquil and serene experience if it wasn’t for all the traffic and tuk tuks honking their horns!

We loved getting lost through the tea plantations and would have loved to explore the area more, only we had a train to catch.

In Hauputale we headed to Lipton’s Seat and the Dambatenne tea factory.  Lipton’s seat is a lookout from which Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his land.  The 7km walk is one not to be missed – walking through the tea plantations you are surrounded by their beauty and the many tea pickers in the area.  At the end of the walk, you’ll come across a lookout – unfortunately for us though, we were meet by a valley of fog.  The walk, however, was absolutely stunning and something we would do again, regardless of the weather.

Tangella

When people think of Sri Lanka they will often think of it’s striking beaches.  Spoiled for options we decided on Tangella Beach to end our trip with a few days of relaxation.  It was a fantastic way to end our visit to this beautiful country – the beach was quiet and absolutely exquisite!  If we had more time in Sri Lanka, we would have definitely spent more time exploring the coast and the many activities it has to offer – we’d recommend you do the same.


Restaurants and Night Life

Curries are the staple dish in Sri Lanka and they are incredible – colourful and flavoursome, with huge servings, they offer great value for money.  Each curry normally comes accompanied with rice and variety of small dishes (usually consisting of spiced veggies and dhal).  You can find great curries everywhere and if you’re wanting to stay close to home, your guest house can usually serve you food if you order before a certain time.

Bake House (Kandy)

Located in the centre of Kandy this is a famed restaurant with many locals and tourists eating side by side.  Whilst the décor of the place is dated, the turnaround is fast, the dinning is pleasant and the food good.  The front of the restaurant serves as a bakery if you want to grab something for the road otherwise you can buy a good curry inside the restaurant.

Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar (Kandy)

This bar, formerly known as Bamboo Bar (some tuk tuk drivers still know it by the old name), has a great vibe and you will find it filled with both tourists and locals.  The bar has a range of food and serves standard English fare as well as a variety of other cuisines.

ll Mare (Anantara Hotel, Tangalle)

Being quite partial to good food we decided to splurge towards the end of our trip at this fine dining restaurant.  The view was gorgeous, perched on a cliff edge overlooking the ocean and beach below, the Italian menu is as authentic as the Italian manager who runs the restaurant that specialising in perfectly fresh produce.  The food is beautifully presented and delightful – we could have eaten everything on the menu!

Ministry of Crab (Colombo)

Located in the Old Dutch Hospital, this is an upmarket area, surrounded by lovely restaurants and a few shops.  Ministry of Crab is a modern eatery owned by two former Sri Lankan cricketers, and you guessed, it they serve crab.

Whilst the restaurant have other options on the menu, generally people come for the crab.  Here you choose what size crab you want (ranging in size from 500g – 2kgs), and the style you want.  It can be a messy process getting the meat out of the shells but they’ve got this covered – just prepare yourself to don a bib.

I can recommend the garlic chilli crab and the avocado crab salad (which was a combination of crab meat mixed with wasabi mayonnaise served in half an avocado).  With that said, all of the food was amazing and I would whole heartily recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in Colombo!

Floor by O! (Colombo)

We stumbled across this place as the rooftop restaurant we wanted to dine in was absolutely jammed packed and this bar/restaurant was conveniently located downstairs.  The menu is jammed packed with food from all around the world and whilst the food was good, the atmosphere was even better.  Being some of the only tourists in there, we were well looked after and almost like D-list celebrities, everyone wanted to talk and dance with us.  The DJ had the dance floor packed, spinning tunes ranging from pop to old school RnB and hip-hop.  It was an amazing night and I only wish we remembered the name of the club we visited afterwards, as this had us out until 6am with they’re great drinks and tunes!


Is Sri Lanka Really Worth a Visit?

Absolutely!  Sri Lanka is the perfect mix of culture and beauty.  It somehow strikes the balance between being familiar enough to suit the newest traveller, and vibrant and exciting enough to hook the most seasoned backpacker in.  Sri Lanka really does offer something for everyone and for this reason, I’d highly recommend adding it to your travel wish-list… or better still, booking your flights right away!


Headed to Sri Lanka?  Don’t Leave Without These Tips!

  • Due to old British colonial laws pubs and restaurants won’t serve alcohol between the hours of 11am and 2pm.
  • Ladies beware, it’s very hard to purchase tampons in Sri Lanka.  As these can be very hard to source, make sure you stock up beforehand.
  • Ask if your accommodation has hot water before booking as it’s common in Sri Lanka to have cold water showers.
  • If heading to the Hill Country be sure to pack a rain coat – it rains a lot.

Ready to Book?  What you Need to Know about Visas in Sri Lanka

Most people will require a visa to visit Sri Lanka but you can apply online for an electronic visa and it’s a fairly straight forward process.  They take around four days to process and cost around USD40.  To find out more information or to apply for a visa head to the official visa processing site.

Happy travels!


Love this post?  Pin it so others find it too!

9 day Sri Lanka itinerary

%d bloggers like this: