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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 dunes on a quintessentially Middle Eastern desert safari (where you can even camp overnight amongst the stars!)

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
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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.

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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!


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9 day Sri Lanka itinerary

Accommodation Europe Mid-Range Norway Reviews Travel

Hello Norway – Hiring a RV and Hitting the Road

December 29, 2016
RV Hire in Norway Touring Cars

After the most amazing week in Iceland it was time to begrudgingly pack up our things and make a move.  Of course we didn’t have anything to complain about as we were off to a new destination for us both – beautiful Norway.

After an uneventful flight (which is exactly what you want in a flight!) we arrived in Oslo and were promptly picked up by Touring Cars.

For the next eight days we’ve been entrusted with an absolute beauty of an RV.  Before hitting the road, there was a fair bit to learn though and Touring Cars did an amazing job of ensuring we understood the ins and outs of both driving and camping in Norway.  After watching an introductory video, having everything demonstrated to us and trying our hand at the tricky parts, we felt relatively secure in our ability to keep her ticking over the next week.

Fortunately for us, Kris at Touring Cars Norway put together a suggested itinerary and differing to his expertise, we made a move for our first stop.

After a quick snack at a service station we continued on for about an hour and a half until we reached the gorgeous hill-side town of Lillehammer.  This quant spot was home to the Winter Olympics in 1994 and more recently the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics and thanks to its sporting heritage, there are plenty of wintery activities on offer, including ski-jumping, tobogganing, bobsledding, skiing and snowboarding.

Though we had plans to camp under the ski-jump, we decided to head back down to the lake and in the morning awoke to this spectacular view.

Does it get any better?

In Norway, you’re allowed to camp pretty much anywhere – there are rest stops just to the side of the road all over the country and you’re welcome to park on public land as long as you’re not preventing access.  

As we’re self-contained in our RV, we can just pull into one of these rest stops for the evening, cook our dinner and wake up to the most spectacular views in Norway, all at no extra cost!  I think we’re well and truely being converted to #vanlife.

Are you considering a trip to Norway?  Stay tuned for information about the cost of visiting this beautiful country.  You can check out the fun we had in Lillehammer here too!

Thank you to Touring Cars for loaning us our gorgeous RV for the week so we can experience camping in Norway’s winter.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Budget Europe Iceland

Sleeping in a Pod in Iceland – Galaxy Pod Hostel

December 28, 2016
Galaxy Pod Hostel Reykjavik Iceland review

Iceland is known for many things, but a budget destination it is not. Being relatively isolated, the cost of living is fairly high and of course these prices are often reflected in the price of accommodation.  So, what is one to do if travelling to Iceland without an endless budget?  There are a number of ways to help save money whilst travelling – one of which is to stay in a hostel.

We found the Galaxy Pod Hostel to be a quiet haven after a day of travel in Iceland and with a range of options available, it will suit most travellers in Reykjavík.

We spotted their ‘pods’ online and knew instantly it was a place we wanted to check out.  Long story short, they’re awesome!

Each pod is equipped with a little air-conditioning unit, a range of power points and USB chargers, a mirror, independent lighting options and many of them had their own little TVs.  When you’re ready to escape the rest of the world, you just pull down on the screen to create your own private sanctuary.

What are the Shared Spaces Like at the Galaxy Pod Hostel?

The communal spaces at Galaxy are well-maintained and tidy with plenty of room for everyone.

The uni-sex bathrooms were clean and there were plenty of showers for the number of people staying.  The water smelt a little of sulphur but that’s to be expected when it’s sourced from the naturally heated wells in the ground.

Though we didn’t cook, there were basic facilities for preparing meals and a supermarket across the road which was particularly useful!  The area doesn’t have a great deal of restaurants but with the town an easy walk down the road, there are plenty of options within reach if you would like a meal out.

We relaxed in the lounge for a while after check-out, watching the first real snow of the winter season fall over Reykjavík – the sofas were comfy, the view was pretty and the wifi strong – everything we look for really!

How Staying in a Hostel in Iceland Can Help You Save Money

  • By sharing a room and bathroom facilities with others you’ll instantly save some hard-earned dosh over the price of a hotel.  Also, if you’re travelling as a single traveller, you’ll avoid having to pay for a room by yourself.
  • Having a kitchen onsite allows you to shop locally (or bring some basics from home, should you have room in your bags) and prepare your own meals and snacks.  Though we didn’t find Iceland to be as expensive as we expected, meals out were a significant jump up in price from supermarket prices (which were surprisingly affordable all things considered).
  • Further money is saved by having you bring your own toiletries and sometimes your own towel (check with where you’re staying to see if they supply them – if you do need your own, we recommend a Turkish towel.  They’re so much more absorbent than the ‘quick-dry’ travel towels, lovely and soft and don’t take up much space).  It’s worth noting that most hostels won’t let you use your own sleeping bag anymore, so there’s no need to carry about your own bedding.

Is it worth shelling out the extra money for a pod over a normal dorm bed?  

The answer to that question largely depends on your budget but if you’ve got access to the spare money, absolutely.  It normally takes me a night or so to re-adjust to having other people sleeping in a room with me, but with my own pod, I fell asleep right away and stayed snoozing all night – that’s never happened for me in the past!

The pods themselves are reasonably well-sized.  They’re not huge but give you enough room to move about in bed without feeling confined and would be suitable for the majority of people.  If you suffer from claustrophobia then you may find the space to be a little enclosed for your liking but we were both more than happy in our little homes for the night.

If you’d prefer, they do have more traditional bunk beds available too at a lower price point and all rooms come with the use of digitally secured lockers.

When you’re in Reykjavík and are looking for a relaxed and comfortable place to stay that provides a good level of privacy without breaking the bank then Galaxy Hostel may be the perfect option for your visit to Iceland!


Headed to Iceland? Pin this post for future reference!

An affordable accommodation option in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Our favourite hostel in the city, offering privacy, comfort and a way to meet others whilst keeping to your budget. An affordable accommodation option in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Our favourite hostel in the city, offering privacy, comfort and a way to meet others whilst keeping to your budget. An affordable accommodation option in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Our favourite hostel in the city, offering privacy, comfort and a way to meet others whilst keeping to your budget.

Thank you to Galaxy Pod Hostel for hosting us for the evening to review their pods.  All thoughts, as always, are our own.

Accommodation Dubai Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Roving Around Dubai – The City’s Funkiest Hotel

December 17, 2016
Rove City Centre Dubai review

Sometimes you stay somewhere that is the perfect fit for you – the newly opened Rove City Centre Dubai was exactly that for us.  If I had a hotel soul mate, it might just be it!

From the moment we drove into the massive basement carpark to the last minute when we begrudgingly checked-out, we only have positive things to say.

The staff throughout our entire stay were friendly, attentive and approachable, without being even a little over-bearing – it was clear that all guests to Rove are welcomed in as friends first and foremost, which, for us, is what it’s all about.

Someone with a real eye for detail was obviously put in charge of the interior design and they hit it out of the park.  The little details in the communal spaces were spot on making them a pleasure to spend time in.  We’re not normally ones to sit in a lobby but with the amazing aromatherapy smells drifting about (honestly, a hotel has never smelt so good!), the gorgeous decorations and the comfortable seating, it was impossible not to.

Rove City Centre is perfectly positioned near the main Dubai airport (DXB), making it a fantastic choice for stopovers and people looking for a place to stay before/after their flights.  

As a base, the whole city is easily accessible by car or one of Dubai’s affordable taxis.  Dubai itself is incredibly spread out along Sheikh Zayed Road so wherever you find yourself in the city, you’ll cover a fair few kilometres as you work your way between the airport, Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab (though if you’d prefer, Rove also have a Downtown property right beside the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, famous for its dancing fountains).

Everything about Rove City Centre has been thoughtfully considered.  

Looking to unwind in the city?  The rooftop pool and sundeck will see you right.  Alternatively, challenge your travel partner to a game of table tennis, get in some putting practice on the mini-golf green or see how quickly you can solve a rubies cube.

Keen to work off all of the glorious food on offer in Dubai?  See you in the gym, where you’ll find a full range of machinery, weights, the biggest TV you’ve ever seen and plenty of workout towels on hand (we told you they’ve thought of everything).

In town for work?  They’ve got a range of funky and functional conference rooms and facilities ready to take care of your business needs.

Need to touch base with home or keep up with what’s happening in the world?  You’ll find complimentary (and fast!) wifi in all of the rooms and hotel spaces and iMacs on hand should you forego travelling with your laptop.

Hungry?  Potentially the only place we’ve ever stayed that has a fully-stocked mini-mart open 24/7 (with affordable pricing to boot).

Coming from another holiday destination?  They’ve got both self-wash and serviced laundry facilities so you can be ready for your next stop.

Do you have a late departure?  Rove will give you a 2pm checkout without even needing to ask.

The rooms themselves are of a good size – more than enough for us to relax in and spread ourselves out.  With a comfy king-sized bed and good quality linen getting a good nights sleep was easy, and thanks to the incredible black-out curtains, we both slept in longer than we’d planned – not that we were complaining!

After freshening up (in our powerful rain shower) we made our way down to The Daily for breakfast – make sure you set your alarm as I promise, you don’t want to miss it!

Freshly baked croissants and chocolate pastries, banana bread, assorted toasts, fresh fruit, yoghurt, hot dishes and a selection of more exotic breakfast fare (labneh, bircher musli, soft cheese, nuts, seeds and more) was just the start. In addition, a range of cooked-to-order meals, including omelettes, shakshuka, a full farmers breakfast and paneer bhaji, were available.  

Sometimes when we travel we find breakfasts largely catering for locals – that wasn’t the case here though with plenty on offer to cater to all palettes.  For the two mornings that we were in Dubai, breakfast literally became one of the highlights of each day!

In addition to their delicious food, breakfast included barista coffees, an assortment or fresh juice and, our personal favourite, strawberry and mango smoothies (if you visit Rove, go for the mango – it’s out of this world!)

Regardless of whether you’re passing through Dubai briefly or are spending more time in the city, Rove offers great value for money, a warm and welcoming environment, all the facilities you could need and a funky, modern style.  We couldn’t have asked for more from our first Rove experience and are pleased to say, we’re definitely Rovers now!


Rooms at Rove City Centre will generally set you back a very reasonable AED250 (room only – AED340 if you want to include breakfast, and we recommend you do).  We’ve stayed in three other Dubai hotels around this price-point and can say without doubt, that we believe Rove offers the best value in the city.

Dubai's Best Value Hotel The Rove City Centre

Thank you to Rove for so generously hosting us for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts are our own.  Rove really is as good as it sounds!

Accommodation Luxury Middle East Oman Reviews Sohar

Spoilt for Choice – Reviewing the Radisson Blu Sohar, Oman

December 11, 2016
Radisson Blu Sohar Review Oman

Generally when we book a holiday, we book based on the location and activities we hope to do in that area; for the most part, our accommodation is something that fits in around our other requirements.  This time though, we decided to let our accommodation be the guide and in doing so, booked in to stay in Sohar, a small coastal town on the Gulf of Oman, at the Radisson Blu.

Approximately three hours from Abu Dhabi (or four hours if you have our misfortune at the border) the Radisson Blu Sohar sits on the Omani shoreline.  The hotel is so new, the driveway isn’t quite finished, but don’t let that put you off – once you make it off the main road and enter the hotel, you’ll slip into a blissful state of relaxation, we guarantee it.

We were warmly greeted in the foyer and after a smooth check-in, made our way up to our room to begin our much anticipated long-weekend of downtime.

Our Room at the Radisson Blu Sohar

Imagine our surprise to find the most delicious tray of dessert treats in our room – mini mango smoothies, berry macrons and chocolate-dipped strawberries. We knew instantly that we’d come to the right place – an hotel that greets us with sugary treats is onto a good thing in our books!  It was a great sign of things to come as the rest of the weekend turned into an absolute whirlwind of the most amazing food – so much so that we’re going to dedicate a post to the restaurants individually – stay tuned.

Tearing ourselves away from our sweet surprise, we found our room was spacious, clean and beautifully appointed.  The artwork throughout gave a nod to the  hotel’s Arabian setting, whilst remaining modern and the materials throughout were of a high quality.  The wifi was complimentary and of good speed and the TV had a range of international channels.  Even the small details were thought of, with USB chargers in sockets and international plugs installed directly into the walls – for people travelling with plugs from all over the world, it was fantastic not to have to fish out our converters from the depths of our bags.

The bathroom provided a little oasis of calm – a beautiful big bath (bath salts included) and a rain shower – and included all the bath products you could ever need for a weekend away, including a toothbrush, razor and lotions.

Around the Hotel

The Lobby

We’ve never been ones to sit in the lobby of a hotel but the addition of a cafe and beautiful big windows made the Radisson’s lobby a great place to spend some time.  From the balcony you can watch the world go by below – Omani families enjoying the beach, quad bikes ripping up and down the beach and if you’re lucky, even a prized bull being taken for a walk and swim along the shoreline.

The Pools

We were absolutely spoilt for choice when it came to the pools at the Radisson – with five to choose from (including a separate one for the kids) and a waterfall area, you’ll be sure to find your favourite.  The water temperature was different in each of them, with our preference being the pool with the swim-up bar (it was a little warmer).  If you’d prefer to lounge by the side of the pool, there are plenty of sun loungers available to you also.

Unwinding at the Spa

However you prefer to relax, you’ll find an option to suit at the Sohar Radisson Blu.  Both Nathan and I blissed out over the course of an hour-long massage – aromatherapy oils, candle light and a full sixty minutes of pure relaxation.  There are numerous options available including hot rock and sports massage and body scrubs, though we were both more than happy with our aromatherapy oil massages.

Once you’re finished with your treatment, you’re welcome to use the facilities which include a steam room, sauna and spa pool before sitting down to enjoy a freshly poured cup of tea.

If your idea of looking after yourself is working out, you’re in luck as the Radisson Blu Sohar has a fully equipped gym.  Though we can’t vouch for the quality of the equipment ourselves (we were too busy eating, relaxing and swimming) it looked top-of-the-line and ready to put even the fittest of guests through their paces.

Why You Should Visit Oman

Oman is like a breath of fresh air – the people are warm and welcoming and nothing is a problem.  Throughout the region we’ve experienced great hospitality but Oman is another step up – even crossing through the border the guards asked how we were (with big, beaming smiles) and kindly pointed us in the right direction.  As much as I love the UAE, we can’t say we’ve ever experienced a greeting or farewell like that on the Emirati side of the border.

The UAE’s freindly neighbour has a lovely relaxed nature about it which is a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Abu Dhabi.  It’s down-to-earth and if you go looking, you’ll almost certainly spot the local camels, goats and donkeys amongst the rugged landscape.

Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway from within the region (it would be an easy drive from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain, Muscat or Nizwa) or need a place to stop off before continuing on further afield, the Radisson Blu is a great choice.  We had fairly high expectations already given the reputation of the brand, but were excited to find that our expectations were far surpassed.  The Radisson Blu is Sohar’s only five-star hotel and there is no doubt they’ve earned every one of their stars.  Don’t take our word for it though – pay the Radisson Blu Sohar a visit yourselves!


Radisson Blu Sohar Oman review

Our first experience of Radisson Blu’s hospitality certainly won’t be our last.  In fact, we’re already booked our next stay in and can’t wait to experience the same Radisson Blu hospitality at their Saga property in Iceland.

Thank you to the team at Radisson Blu Sohar for so generously hosting us.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Activities Beirut Itineraries Lebanon Middle East Stop Overs & Quick Trips

48 Hours in Lebanon: An Itinerary and Budget

October 4, 2016
48 hours in beirut budget and itinerary lebanon

Having moved to Abu Dhabi a little over a year ago with the intention of travelling, we’ve surprised even ourselves by just how much of the world we’ve been able to see.

The United Arab Emirates are an ideal base from which to explore and with a long weekend just gone, there was no chance of sitting around at home – Lebanon was calling!

I made the trip with Olivia (who you may recognise from our Egypt posts) and as it was such a last minute trip on the back of my visit to India and Nepal, saving money was the name of the game.  We managed to pick up reasonably priced flights and found apartment accommodation to be well priced for a major city which made the decision to head away an easy one.

Read on for information to help you plan your 48 hour visit to this energetic and unique city.

Looking for a four day Lebanon itinerary?  We’ve got you covered with that too!

Flights

We flew from Abu Dhabi (via Muscat in both directions) at a total cost of AED760 each return (USD205 or NZD285).  With only a long weekend direct flights would have been our preference but the other flight times and prices didn’t agree with us so it was worth doubling back on the flight – having flown from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, we then flew over Abu Dhabi again as we made our way to Beirut.  It was a round about way to get there but it made the difference between going or not!

If you’re looking to book the same itinerary, we flew on Oman Air, departing Thursday night at 5.25pm, arriving at 11.25pm.  Our return flight was early on Sunday morning (at 1.30am) which had us arrive into Abu Dhabi that same morning at 9.45am, giving us time to relax before heading back to work the following day.

Accommodation

Whenever we travel to a new area we compare the price of booking an Airbnb with a hotel (occasionally we’ll throw a hostel or camp ground into the mix too) and we generally find that Airbnb comes out on top.  This trip was no different and due to our budget, we made the decision to book into an apartment in Mar Mikhael.

The apartment set us back NZD144 (USD105) for the two nights (in total) which was fairly well-priced for what we received though the photos do make the apartment look better than it really was.  In reality, it was much more tired-looking than it appears online, it was missing a toilet seat and had slow wifi.  The location was pretty good though I think it’s fair to say we were on the outskirts of the nice part of Mar Mikhael.  All in all, it was a solid option if you’re travelling on a budget but you may be able to find something better for the same amount of money elsewhere in the city.

Rental Car

Though parts of the city are walkable, to really make the most of Beirut and the surrounding areas, you’ll want to secure a rental car.  The road rules are practically nonexistent but it’s all a part of the adventure – drive with caution and expect every two-lane road to turn into three and you’ll be fine.

As we booked our trip so late, we had a hard time securing a rental car before-hand and had to rely upon picking one up at the airport.  When we arrived, the cost had doubled so we decided to taxi into town to get a car the next day – the taxi cost us just shy of NZD70 (or USD45 between us) which cut a long way into the cost of a rental car.  In the end, we paid USD90 for a rental for the two days but could have got one online for about USD70 (and avoided the cost of the taxi) if we’d been able to book in advance online.  If you’re headed to Beirut, don’t hesitate to book your rental in in advance!

What Can I do in Beirut?

Beirut (and its easily accessible surrounding areas) offer plenty for everyone to do.  Beautiful beaches, towering mountains, little towns that have a clear French influence, ancient ruins, buzzing bars and restaurants; you won’t be bored here!

Stay tuned for more detailed posts but in the meantime, here’s a quick run-down of what we did (and would recommend you do too):

  • Day One
    • Explore Byblos – This beautiful township has a distinctive French feel about it which, when combined with traditional Arabian souqs, makes for an interesting stop.  Whilst in the area, check out the gorgeous old forts and church (all free of charge).
    • Visit The Lady of Lebanon up at Harissa.  The view from this statue is incredible – the best in Beirut!  To get up to the state, you have the option of taking the cable car from the bay below, or do as we did and drive yourself up (free of charge).
    • Shopping!  It turns out Beirut have a number of discount shopping options so as we made our way back to the city, we stopped off and picked up a few bargains.
    • Stop by Trainstation.  This spot it the epitimy of cool which says a lot in a city as funky as Beirut is.  Fortunately for us, the Beiruit Restaurants Festival was being held during the period of our visit, which meant we got to enjoy the most delicious food, desserts and drinks under the light of the moon, fireworks and fairylights whilst hanging out arond an abandoned (and now converted) railway station – it was absolutely magical.
  • Day Two
    • Admire the Jeita Grotto – One of the real highlights of Lebanon for us.  These caves are perfectly lit up, allowing a good view of their natural beauty whilst maintaining a sense of peace and quiet.  This will cost you 18,150 Lebanese pounds (or USD12 / NZD16.50) and includes a cable car ride, mini train ride and entrance to both of the grottos (including a boat ride inside the lower gotto), along with a movie (which we missed due to limited times available in English).
    • More shopping?!  On our way back from the Grotto, we stumbled across the most fabulous discount shop, Basic.  If you’re in Beirut, be sure to swing by – we both walked away with a decent sized bag of quality clothing for next to nothing.
    • Find peace at the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (or Blue Mosque).  Neither of us are Muslim but there’s something amazingly peaceful about spending time in a mosque.  This one is particularly beautiful and conveniently located in the middle of town – coverups are available outside at no charge so you don’t need to worry about the suitability of your clothing when planning a visit.
    • Swing past the fancy part of town and stop for a photo at the ‘I love Beirut’ sign, because you almost definitely will fall in love with the city.
    • Admire the Pigeon Rocks (AKA Raouché).  This view is surely one of Beirut’s most iconic – you won’t need long there but it’s definitely worth the trip across the city.
    • … and last but not least, challenge yourself in the best possible way to some escape room fun!  We visited Escape Games Beirut where Olivia had a go at her first-ever escape room (the Hangover).  This game is a great option if it’s your first time playing or if you’ve got a small group as it was the perfect combination of challenge and fun, both of which are essential to an enjoyable escape room experience!  If you’re a bit more experienced or have a larger group, you have another three other amazingly themed rooms to choose from too.  Once Liv was well and truely hooked on these real-life puzzle rooms, we visited Escape the Room to try out their new room, the Castle.  We were a bit spoilt as this room hasn’t yet been opened to the public and it certainly was a treat.  We can’t give too much away but the idea behind this room and the theming was impeccable, made all the better by their innovative integration of technology into the game.  We absolutely love escape rooms (you can read our last post, outlining the concept here) and highly recommend both of these options in Beirut.

Beirut was a vivacious and interesting city full of incredible juxtapositions.  Both Olivia and I really enjoyed our time exploring and would return in a heart-beat.  Sure, it’s not the place for everyone but if you head there with an adventurous spirit and a bit of patience, your gamble will pay off.

Final Costings per Person (based on twin share)

Flights (Abu Dhabi via Muscat, return) = USD205.00

Accommodation (for two nights) = USD52.50

Rental car (for 48 hours) = USD45.00

Fuel = USD23.00

TOTAL = USD325.50 each (NZD450 or AED1,195)

I’m not going to account for food or activities as this can cost as much or as little as you’d like it to.  Most of the activities we did were free or low cost and we had a ball so you don’t have to go with a lot of additional cash if you don’t want to.

Is Lebanon worth spending your hard-earned money on?  Absolutely!


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 Lebanon is an amazing, interesting and colourful country. It's safe too! Use our itinerary to help you plan your weekend getaway. Lebanon is dynamic, energetic, interesting and filled with history. Use our guide to plan 48 hours in this amazing country. 48 hours in Beirut Lebanon. An itinerary and budget.

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