Best one week breaks for the Eid holiday – 6 hot spots
With the Eid al Adha public holiday only two weeks away, I thought I’d post a summary of my top six places to travel to from Dubai, for those (like me) who have not yet organised a trip away and may well need a nudge of inspiration. It’s rare for me not to jump on an opportunity to travel, but I’m blaming it on my recent move to self-employment (shameless plug of my new venture here) and the long hours that have gone into getting this off the ground! Now that I have though, I am seriously contemplating a quick getaway to one of these nearby exotic destinations myself.
Our neighbouring and most accessible country from the UAE, Oman is one of my favourite countries in the world for the friendly people, relaxed way of life and genuinely warm Arabian hospitality. Despite regular trips across the border for dive trips in the Musandam at Dibba (I’ve listed these in previous posts), dolphin watching trips in Khasab, weekend getaways in Muscat, hiking weekends in Salalah (photographic evidence on Facebook), canyoning and caving in Snake Canyon (a weekend so fantastic it had its own post), and camping and crazy mountain races such as the Wadi Bih Run, I have also taken extra time in the past to spend one of my favourite Eid breaks travelling around the country for a week, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’m planning on dedicating a separate post to Oman in order to go into a bit more detail and give it the attention is so rightly deserves (you can see my picture on Facebook though), but for now the highlights include: The historic town of Nizwa, situated high in the mountains with a domineering fort and lively souk (market), and neighbouring Jebel Akhdar (green mountain), both located a couple of hours away from the coastal capital of Muscat. This is another essential stop which juxtaposes a beautifully old stretch of corniche and chaotically authentic souk with a growing collection of luxury five-star hotels and the Sultan’s palace. With only a week to explore, the furthest we were able to venture was Ras Al Jinz (around five hours drive from Muscat on the scenic old road – already a five-hour drive from Dubai) but it is well worth the trip, as it is an important nesting site for the endangered green turtle. The new Scientific and Visitor Centre allows you to stay near the beach and makes for convenient viewing of mummy turtles laying their eggs, as well as the break for freedom by cute and clueless little babies in the evening and at dawn (now is the best time of year to see both).
Driving around the country is a great experience, I did it with another girlfriend and with only a Lonely Planet book and map as a guide, and felt completely comfortable and welcome – it was one of the safest trips I have ever made. I still have a few more trips in mind for Oman – to go caving in Hoota Cave, to explore the Bedouin camps and camel racing at Wahiba Sands, and to continue to explore the stunning mountains and wadis, but I promised a short post so will save these details for later!
Visiting Jordan was very much a whistle-stop tour for me as I was determined to see all of the diverse destinations I had read about in the space of only five days. It was a great trip, but in all honesty a little rushed and I would give myself at least a couple of extra days in future to be able to relax and enjoy each place properly. The full experience is documented in a previous blog post, but for the sake of a summary, I skipped the capital Amman, hired a driver and tailored the trip to my own personal itinerary. This comprised the preserved Roman city of Jerash and its stunning ruins, as well as the obligatory and bizarre experience of floating in the Dead Sea (and plastering yourself in the thick gooey mud first – it’s good for the skin, honest!) which can all be visited in one (long) day.
The iconic and awe-inspiring Petra deserves at least one full day, if not two, in order to really explore the long winding canyons and deep hidden temples and tombs, carved deep into the colourful rocks, as well as making it up the steep pathways to the panoramic High Place of the Sacrifice. If you’re familiar with my blog, it will come as no surprise that I made a beeline for Aqaba in order to try some diving in the Red Sea (less crowded that the waters around Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt) and spent my last night in a desert camp in Wadi Rum, after taking tea with the bedouins and a 4WD tour around Lawrence of Arabia’s backyard. The final stop on the way back to the airport, was to head up Mount Nebo (the spot where Moses first saw the Promised Land and was later buried) and check out the handmade mosaics in Madaba.
As much as I loved the country and its diverse landscapes and adventures, it’s not a place I would return to on my own, as I did seem to attract a lot of unwanted attention – nothing to cause alarm, but enough on occasion to make me feel uncomfortable. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again with company however, in fact the stopover in Amman on our way to Palestine last year was great fun!
This one breaks my pattern in that it is a city rather than a country – however, as I have not and do not plan to ever try to circumnavigate Turkey in one week, I wanted to keep the focus on this melting pot of a city. Geographically divided by the mighty Bosphorous River, half of the city is located within Europe, whilst the rest falls within Asia. With this heady mix of strong cultures and people, the atmosphere within the city is charged with passion and excitement. The food is outstanding, from the succulent, dripping kebaps and fresh simit (rings of bread decorated with sesame seeds) to delicious brightly-coloured local ice creams, inimitable authentic locum (Turkish Delight) and refreshing fruit teas, almost anything seems possible from the charismatic and omnipresent street sellers.
Although the food definitely warrants some dedicated worship, and spending time in Turkish cafes, eating, drinking tea and smoking shisha is by no means the worst way to spend a few days in Istanbul, I am not advocating a purely culinary journey. The main tourist destinations are all worth a visit, from the grandeur of Aya Sofya (Church of Holy Wisdom) and the Blue Mosque to the nearby atmospheric underground delights of the Basilica Cistern. I liked Topkapi Palace but was not so taken with Dolmabahce Palace (palaces aren’t really my thing), but the Grand Bazaar should definitely be at the top of everyone’s agenda to inject a rush of colour and energy into any itinerary – I came away with beautiful lamps and candles, mounds of Turkish Delight and fresh tea, and all manner of souvenirs, as well as reams and reams of photos. The entire old town is stunning, with beautiful architecture in the form of mosques and grand buildings, Galata Tower was a great place to admire the city from on high and watch the sun set over the roofs and spires, and a visit to this area would not be complete without experiencing an authentic hammam (Turkish Bath). If you have the time, it is also worth taking the ferry trip over the Bosphorous and experiencing the city from the other side. The full blog post is still to come, but you can check out my pictures here.
What more can I say, I have already written two posts on my favourite destination, one from my initial trip around the country and the second from a return trip for a wedding. Nepal is easily and cheaply reached from Dubai and caters to all visitors. My initial post has all the details of our extensive tour, and I would find it hard to narrow down the list of must visit places. The cultural capitals of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur have rich cultural old towns, and Kathmandu itself has so many impressive temples and Buddhist stupas, as well as an overwhelming number of chilled out cafes and restaurants, that it needs at least a few days to soak up the atmosphere.
The really unique experiences were found in Pashupatinath, the home of the holy river where Hindus are brought to be cremated; trekking the Annapurnas (a three-day trek is possible and culminates in reaching the top of Poon Hill for a spectacular sunrise over the snow-capped mountains) and recovering in the hippy town of Pokhara where you can paraglide with eagles, enjoy boat rides on the lake and stretch it all out with yoga gurus in a variety of ashrams. The final stop that is unfortunately often overlooked is Chitwan National Park, a world heritage site that protects rhinos, tigers and crocodiles, and allows you to explore the jungle by foot, 4×4 or elephant (!) and enjoy some breathtaking close encounters with these animals in the wild before getting the chance to reward your weary elephant with a nice long bath in the river and scrub with a coconut shell.
5. Sri Lanka
Aside from Sri Lanka’s obvious charms of white sand beaches, relaxed and friendly people and amazing cuisine (some of those seafood curries were so good, I am salivating just thinking about them!) there are several other things to see before leaving the Spice Island and I covered these in a post only a few weeks ago. As a quick reminder though, because the island is so small, you can see a lot even if you only have a few days. You can do a nice day trip to Kandy to see the Temple of the Sacred Tooth and buy some gems, via Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Another stunning day out if you’re based in and around Colombo is to head south to the port of Galle, stopping on the way to check out the turtle hatcheries, toddy tapping (collecting of coconuts to make a rather potent alcoholic drink!) and monuments to the tsunami victims.
At the time, I only had five days in Sri Lanka and was keen to relax and enjoy the time there, so I didn’t get as far afield as I would have liked, but the next time, I will definitely look to Yala National Park and climb Elephant Rock too!
This country is so vast that you could spend years travelling around it and still not see everything! So far, I’ve only explored two key areas and have not yet had a chance to post my thoughts on either, though I would highly recommend both. First, and possibly the most obvious, is the Golden Triangle circuit around Rajasthan. I flew into Delhi (this was my lest favourite place in India, so I wouldn’t stay long again) and then went to Agra for a day to see the spectacular Taj Mahal (I didn’t think it could match the expectations that had been set, but it really did, and more!) and all of the other temples in the area. From here I took the crowded and chaotic train to Jaipur, the pink city, which was a fantastic city to explore without the same pressing poverty as Delhi. The trip from Jaipur to Jodhpur was done by night sleeper train (this journey could have a post all to itself but I’ll save the stories for another time!) and I fell in love with this quiet blue city and its watchful fort nestled up in the hills. The trip finished in Udaipur, the city of lakes, which centres around a peaceful lake and the pristine Lake Palace. You can see the pictures from the trip on Facebook to get an idea of where these creative city names come from!
The other trip that I would suggest for those looking for a less stressful tour and quieter pace of life, would be to head to Kerala. You step into a time warp drifting along the backwaters on a houseboat, nothing to disturb the peace and tranquility except for delicate birdsong and the regular slurp of the ‘driver’s’ pole, gently pushing you along. I flew into Kochi/Cochin, a delightfully sleepy little town with amazingly fresh seafood, beautiful photo opportunities of sunset over the nets, and alcohol served on the street, cleverly disguised in teapots! It is easy to do an overnight trip from here up to the tea plantations of Munnar, staying on the mountainside and waking up to a nice fresh brew! We took the houseboat from Alleppey and after several days of floating along the palm-fringe network of rivers, we took the train further down the coast (hanging out of the door most of the way, and causing excitement amongst the school girls!) This particular trip finished in Varkala, an amazing little resort situated on a clifftop, with beaches on each side and a stream of huts selling Tibetan silver and momos (see the post on my trip to Tibet) and offering a fantastic selection of Ayurvedic massage and yoga, and we finally flew out from Trivandrum. I would be very tempted to head back here, even just for a long weekend, but I would also like to see Goa, so I may do this first as it can be done so easily from Dubai.
So that’s it, my (brief – oops!) list of recommendations, there are so many more I would like to include, for example I had some amazing experiences in Lebanon and Syria, and I know friends who had a fantastic trip to Yemen, but unfortunately given the political climate and conflict in each place, the other destinations I have detailed above would make for a more relaxed and less fraught trip (for those travelling and the ones at home!) In addition, I would love to include so many more amazing staycations here in the UAE on this list (some of my favourite local hotel breaks here) but for today I wanted to focus on getting out of the UAE.
For me, I fancy trying somewhere new this month. I had been looking at East Africa for safaris in either Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda or Ethiopia, but this is proving to be more expensive than a new business owner should probably be contemplating right now! The other options are to head to Morocco or Cyprus (still not too far to fly for a week) or an exotic island retreat for a spot of sun worshipping and diving in somewhere like the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Zanzibar or Madagascar – any thoughts or recommendations for me, please let me know!