The Album: Olivia Keith

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Journalist and travel aficionado, Olivia Keith,  reveals why Thailand remains a top travel experience

Oman

The Sultanate of Oman has shaken off the dust gathered through decades of hermit like exile on the world stage, to emerge as one of the world’s most alluring destinations and it doesn’t take a genius to work out why.
The country is blessed with beautiful beaches, azure waters, rugged mountains, spectacular medieval fortresses, ancient ruins, spectacular dune studded scenery and gossipy, garrulous souks – where you can pick up anything from frankincense and fridge magnets to cushion covers and khanjar daggers and still have change from a fiver. In short, Oman matches the Middle East of your imagination.
Oman is also a dream destination for adventure tourists who will find no shortage of activities including climbing (the Al Hajar Mountains, stretching from Musandam in the north of the country to the south-eastern town of Sur are particularly impressive), caving and diving; there are plenty of world class diving locations just begging to be explored. Add to this a population that is as proud as it is friendly, year round sunshine and an enviable environmental record and you’ll soon see why an ever increasing contingent (myself included) have found themselves charmed by Oman.

South Africa



After a few grim decades, when the thought of schlepping to South Africa and feeling the sun on your face was heavily tempered by the spectre of violent crime, the country is once again back on the map (thanks to last year’s World Cup), having firmly established itself as a travellers’ haven.
And rightly so. South Africa has awesome mountains (from the snow capped peaks of the Drakensberg Range to Table Mountain which overlooks ‘the fairest cape’ of them all), world class beaches, excellent surf spots, game reserves galore and vibrant cities: step forward Johannesburg and Cape Town. For a change of pace, tour along the garden route to go whale watching in Hermanus or sip a superb wine in Stellenbosch or Franschoek.
Of course it’s not all vines and fine wines and certainly there’s no getting away from the fact the country has another face; aids is all pervasive (South Africa has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world) and poverty is very real. Nonetheless don’t be deterred from visiting because above all a triumphant spirit prevails. What’s more despite the hassle of a relatively long flight (swallow some sleeping pills and you’ll be none the wiser), getting there is actually the easy part. The hardest part is coming back…

Thailand


Some holiday destinations are like a loaf of bread; they go stale over time as the tourist traffic picks up. Not so in the case of Thailand which remains one of the peak experiences in travel.
Palm fringed beaches, magnificent mountains, romantic soaring hills, Buddhist temples, happy herds of elephants, superb dive sites, vibrant metropolises, lively nightlife, fabulous food (the country is dedicated to filling you up), and everything from budget backpacker joints to super swish resorts are all yours for the taking. Then there’s the Thais themselves – charming and hospitable, they always have time to talk and are ready to engage in a spot of ‘sanuk’ (fun). What more could you want? Bargain prices? Well since you ask, there’s that too with a week in Thailand setting you back the same as a week-end in Britain. Hmm, tough choice…
So where to start? Thailand’s chaotic capital, Bangkok, is the usual target with its temples and tuk tuks, cocktails and clubs. Other popular places include the ‘Rose of the north’ that is Chiang Mai and the tropical island paradise of Phuket, but truth be told Thailand is full of treasures and you’re guaranteed a good time wherever you go…

UAE



Considering the country was only formed in 1971, the UAE (or United Arab Emirates to give it its full name) hasn’t half hogged the headlines with its overwhelming ambition and single minded pursuit of superlatives –  the seven star hotel, the man made islands, the world’s tallest tower…. Throw into the mix the three s’s – that’s sun, sea and shopping –  and the fact that this dazzling desert kingdom is a none too arduous seven hour flight away, and it’s easy to see why tourists are flocking to the UAE in their droves.
It hardly needs to be said that Dubai – a favourite with footballers and their wives – entertains the most tourists thanks to its sky scrapers, mega malls and world class restaurants, but away from the bling there are six other emirates that also have plenty to offer. The country’s capital, Abu Dhabi, is only a short two hour drive south of Dubai. Closer still is Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain – two emirates offering a more traditional Arabian experience. Tucked away at the northern tip of the UAE lies Ras Al Khaimah where adventures seekers can scale the Hajar Mountains, while to the east is the emirate of Fujairah; here you’ll find superb snorkelling and diving.
Even better, at this time of year there are scores of exceptionally good value deals to the UAE meaning you can explore, enjoy and see for yourself the ‘Cinderella story’ of the travel industry – even if you don’t boast the budget of a footballer’s wife.

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