Koh Samui vs Phuket: where to go on your next holiday

Heading to a paradise island in Thailand has got to be most people’s idea of the perfect holiday – we know it’s definitely on our wish list. The question is, which island should you visit? Koh Samui and Phuket are two of the most popular, so we’ve decided to take a look at each of these to try to work out which is best for who.

Fingers crossed, this’ll help you decide between them!

Laidback atmosphere

We don’t know about you, but when we think of jetting off to white-sand, palm-fringed beaches, we also imagine a totally laidback atmosphere. Both Phuket and Koh Samui are great for relaxing in, but, as the less frenetic and quieter of the two, Koh Samui probably has the most chilled-out vibe.

Don’t get us wrong, Phuket is pretty chilled as well, but you will generally find it’s a busier place overall, which we think means it’s got a less laidback feel – especially if you spend a lot of time in the main tourist area of Patong. Koh Samui also has more secluded spots (you’ll be hard-pressed to find these in Phuket), so there’s more scope for days spent on near-deserted beaches.

Quick tip: if you’re looking for somewhere a little quieter on Phuket, head to Nai Han beach on the island’s southern tip.

Overall winner: Koh Samui

Water sports

If you love water sports, Thailand’s islands are a fantastic place to enjoy them. Both islands are home to amazing beaches and offer great opportunities to try out things like snorkelling and scuba diving.

So, which is best? Personally, we think if you’re really serious about giving water sports a go, Phuket probably comes out on top. This is because it’s got a really good set-up for tourists planning to go on diving trips and such – especially in Patong – to nearby famous sites like Shark Point.

The one thing to remember about water sports in Phuket is that while the beaches look gorgeous, they’re not always safe for swimming. So, keep your eyes peeled for a red flag – if you see this, you shouldn’t swim.

Overall winner: Phuket

Awesome day trips

One of the great things about going to Koh Samui or Phuket is that you’ll have the chance to visit some incredible nearby islands. Now, we know you’ll probably be happy enough staying put (who wouldn’t be?!), but we think it’d be a real shame to miss out on these.

If you choose Phuket for your holiday, taking a boat out to Phi Phi Island (where the film adaptation of The Beach was shot) is an absolute must. Should you pick Koh Samui as your base, though, make sure you head out to Ang Thong Marine National Park.

This group of around 40 gorgeous islands is just to the east of Koh Samui, and boats set sail for here from both Na Thon and Mae Nam.

Overall winner: Koh Samui

Nightlife

The party scene in both Koh Samui and Phuket is seriously good, so if you’re planning to let your hair down, you’ll do well in either place. In Phuket, your best bet is to stick to Patong, since this has heaps of bars and clubs catering for tourists. Plus, it’s likely to be where your hotel is, too, so you won’t have far to go to stumble into bed!

In Koh Samui, it’s actually the nearby island Koh Pha-Ngan that usually steals the limelight, thanks to its amazing Full Moon Parties on Hat Rin beach. If you want the ultimate party experience, definitely time your visit to coincide with one of these. Koh Pha-Ngan’s about half an hour away by boat, so it’s not too long a trip.

Overall winner: It’s a tie!

If you’ve been on a getaway to either of these places lately, drop us a line and let us know what you did!

Marriott International Offers New Luxury Hotels in Thailand

Marriott International, a US-based hotel company, is opening three new properties in Thailand in 2012.

The new properties, Rayong Marriott Resort and Spa, The Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit, and the Marriott Executive Apartments Bangkok – Sukhumvit Thonglor, will all open in 2012.

Craig Smith, the company chief operating officer for Asia, said, ‘We are delighted to be expanding our footprint in Thailand and bringing these three wonderful new hotels to the country. We have had a long relationship with Thailand having opened our first hotel here, the JW Marriott Bangkok, some 15 years ago. It is great to be able to bring these new hotels to Thailand which we feel will have a very positive impact on both domestic and international travellers to the country. We are totally committed to Thailand for the long term, and in addition to these three hotels we will continue to grow in Thailand with a further five hotels set to open in the next three to four years.’

The 296-room, Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit is located close to the BTS Skytrain station, and is aimed at the business travel segment, offering both leisure and business facilities. The 206-room, Rayong Marriott Resort and Spa, is located on the Mae Phim beach and offers beautiful ocean views, while Marriott Executive Apartments Bangkok – Sukhumvit Thonglor is a full service luxury hotel for extended stays, located in the same building as the existing Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. All the hotels are offering amenities including restaurants, lounges and bars, and event space, as well as leisure facilities.

Ukraine: A Football Fan’s Travel Guide

With the start of the UEFA Euro 2012 football championship now only six weeks away, England supporters will be anticipating their team’s opening game against France in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday June 11. But how prepared are travelling fans for navigating around a country that is not yet a regular tourist destination?

Those supporters intending to stay in Ukraine, at least for the duration of England’s three group-stage matches, will have to contend with a serious amount of travelling within a country that is close to two and a half times larger than the UK. The second England game is against Sweden in the Olimpiysky Stadium, Kiev, on June 15. Kiev is 369 miles from Donetsk, but it is a journey that ardent supporters will have to make twice, as they must return to the Donbass Stadium, Donetsk for the final group game against the home nation on June 19.

There are several options for travelling between Donetsk, a city in the west of the country that owes much of its development to the mining industry, and Kiev, the country’s centrally located capital. Rail is an obvious choice that offers a relatively comfortable and cost effective means of travel, but has a typical overnight journey time of twelve hours. The ticket price, one way, is approximately £38 for second class. A high-speed train was due to be operating in time for the championships, cutting the journey time to five and a half hours, but there currently appears to be no format available for booking this.

Another cheap option is to take one of the frequent bus services between the cities at less than £20 one-way, but again, be prepared to sit back and enjoy the scenery with a journey time that is also likely to take twelve hours or more. There are regular flights between the cities but they are considerably more expensive and seats could be difficult to come by at this late stage.

Driving between the cities, either in a rental car picked up on arrival or your own car if you have decided to bite the bullet and drive across most of Europe, is an option with plenty of pros and cons. On the plus side, you can sample more of the ‘real’ Ukraine by travelling across country at your own pace, and accommodation in towns that are a distance away from the championship venues is almost certain to be less expensive. However, on the down side, the standard of some of the country’s roads is poor to say the least, while the city roads are congested, and populated by motorists that drive with a ‘spirit of adventure’ that make them not for the faint-hearted. Also, while experiencing Ukraine’s backwaters might provide you with more of an insight into an intriguing country that few of your social group are likely to have visited, it is worth remembering that once away from the major cities you will be exposed to locals whose inexperience with tourists is likely to make them suspicious, off-hand, or even downright rude. Non-white visitors in particular could find a level of prejudice in some quarters that they would be unlikely ever to experience in Western Europe. And on the subject of personal security, whether in a major city or a smaller town, try to avoid flashing expensive jewellery or wads of money, Ukraine is still a relatively poor country and being seen as a rich Westerner will not earn you any more respect and could make you a target for scammers and thieves.

Basic medical facilities in Ukraine are not to Western European standards, either in the proficiency of medical staff, or in terms of facilities and equipment. Should you need medical attention while visiting the country you will be best served at one of the Private Clinics. These tend to cater for Ukraine’s middle class, so you will have to pay for the care that you receive, keep the receipts and make a claim on your travel insurance on your return.

By applying some pre-planning and common sense, experiencing a football tournament in Ukraine should certainly provide for a more memorable event than those hosted by nations that we are more familiar with . If England progress past the group stage, possibilities open up for travel to other cities in Ukraine or into Poland, all the way to the final in…but this is England that we are talking about, so perhaps we should take one step at a time!

Colin Gibson

Verdict on Blackpool Tramway’s £100m Upgrade

Blackpool’s new trams have been opened to the public after a £100million revamp. 16 brand new computerised trams have replaced some of the old heritage vehicles, although plenty of these continue to run for tourists to the resort. In addition to this, 6 miles of track has been replaced and a new tram depot has been built.

Since the new trams opened last week, passengers have said that they love the new look vehicles. However, the launch has not been without teething problems. The first tram to carry paying passengers was derailed by sand in Fleetwood soon after the launch. Also, some stop request buttons have not been working, meaning that people have had to ask the conductor to stop the tram when they want to get off.

Despite these initial problems, the new trams have been very busy, with tourists flocking to ride on them. Whilst some are unhappy that the trams resemble ‘the London Underground in Rush Hour’, the chaos is expected to die down as the novelty of the new trams wears off.

Blackpool remains the UK’s most popular holiday destination, with millions of tourists travelling to the seaside resort to enjoy Blackpool holidays by coach, train, car and even by plane into Blackpool Airport.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Blackpool has a long and proud history of tram use, indeed its tramway is among the oldest in the world. We want to ensure that the future of tram use in the town is even brighter and that is why I was happy to give £68m towards this fantastic project. Blackpool’s trams are absolutely on the right track.”

Experience the vertical marathon in Dubai

Dubai visitors will be able to take part in a gruelling yet rewarding Vertical Marathon event at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers on April 13th 2012.

This taxing charity run will see up to 200 participants racing each other to the top of the towering 52-floor building, a route that takes in 265 metres and a massive 1,334 stairs.

The 2012 edition marks the tenth anniversary of the marathon, which is organised annually by Talise Fitness to support the humanitarian work conducted by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

More than one million dirhams (£170,400) has been raised by the event to date, thus helping the charitable organisation to provide medical care to more than 60 countries across the world.

Those wishing to participate this year should show up at the tower between 06:30 and 07:30 local time for registration, with the race itself commencing at 08:00.

Registration costs 500 dirhams for adult participants or 350 dirhams for those under 18 or competing as part of a team.

A wide variety of last minute hotels are available at LateRooms.com for amateur athletes, including the Golden Sands Hotel Apartments.

Ryanair plan to reduce fuel bills with lighter staff

With the rising oil prices eating into profits, saving fuel on flights is a major issue for airlines.

Ryanair have announced drastic actions to help reduce their load, with its in-flight magazine being reduced in size, less ice will be served in drinks and staff have been encouraged to not pile on the pounds.

In a controversial move, Stephen McNamara a spokesperson for Ryain air claimed that every little helped when it came to reducing the weight of the aircraft, including heavy staff.

He said: “We cut costs wherever possible, and the changes will represent a significant reduction in weight.

“We also considered removing armrests, but decided against it. We even encourage staff to watch their weight – with the motivation of appearing in the annual Ryanair calendar”.

The latest policy means that the firm’s in-flight magazine ‘Let’s Go with Ryanair’ will be reduced from A4 to A5 and will double as a menu. Saving the airline thousands of pounds in fuel thanks to the reduced amount of paper.

It is estimated that the carrier will save more than £400,000 in printing costs.

Other measured include reducing the amount of ice on board, and lowering the weight of trolleys and seats.

However not only Ryanair are taking measures to slim down, other airlines have replaced glass wear in first class cabins with plastic, cut the weight of metal cutlery and some airlines have gone to extreme measures by removing phones, magazine racks and rubbish bins.

Mr McNamara said: “Fuel is an integral part of the fare – you can’t fly passengers anywhere without it. We would rather make cost reductions and charge passengers for other services”.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

Head to Devon for Exeter Festival

Devon will be playing host to the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink once again from April 13th to 15th this year.

To be held at Northernhay Gardens and Exeter Castle Courtyard, the annual event is designed to showcase the quality and variety of produce in south-west England, allowing visitors to meet and buy from local growers and sellers.

High-profile chefs, led by master cook Michael Caines, will be showing off tips and tricks at the festival’s cookery theatre, with the likes of James Nathan, Mat Follas and Jackie Kearney to be in attendance.

After Dark Parties will take place on both the Friday and Saturday, offering live music performances, food stalls and real ale and cider to drink, while Little Cookies events will also be available to help children learn some basic culinary skills.

The festivities run from 10:00 to 18:00 BST on the Friday and Saturday, with Sunday’s events wrapping up an hour earlier.

Day tickets cost £7.50 for adults, £1 for those under 16 and are free for under-fives, while entry to the After Dark parties requires a separate payment of £7 at the door or £5 if booked in advance.

Gourmands can find all manner of last minute hotels in the area at LateRooms.com, including the Acorn Lodge in Torquay.

Further details on the event can be found at www.exeterfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk.

Campsite bookings soar as Brits hunt down bargain breaks

Bargain-hunting Brits are increasingly looking to camping holidays as the tough financial times continue.

Last week saw unseasonably warm weather, and even with the drastic change in weather this week, many holidaymakers are willing to gamble on the chance they may strike lucky with the weather on a camping trip.

As the Easter holidays loom Britain’s Camping and Caravanning Club have seen a huge increase in bookings as Brits see camping as cheaper alternative to a holiday abroad.

The Club has seen five per cent rise in Easter bookings this year, and a 28 per cent jump since 2010.

The believes its not just a case of budget – but a increased interest in the UK this year, with the upcoming Diamond Jubilee celebrations and Olympic Games.

‘With so much going on in 2012, this is the perfect time to make the most of the UK and take a holiday,’ says Robert Louden, Camping and Caravanning Club Director General.

‘Our booking numbers are extremely positive at this stage.

‘We’re dedicated to encouraging campers to experience domestic holidays.

‘There is no better way to enjoy our beautiful countryside at inexpensive costs.’

The 111-year-old club is made up of 130 campsites across Britian, this includes 20 on Forestry Commission land.

It has also been revealed, by the Great Britain Tourism Survey (GBTS), that Brits spent 12 per cent more on camping and caravanning in 2011 then 2010.

The Bourne-Cation

A rise of Brits ‘staycationing’ has been seen inrecent years, and shows no signs of abating, mainly due to uncertainty in the jobs market and the cost of living increasing.

Recent polls in the national media also rate Bournemouth beach as number 1 in the UK.

That’s one good reason for staying, and with the number of exciting events in the calender this year Brits staying for the summer holidays in the UK is likely to increase further. the summer months will include; the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, followed by the Olympics then the Paralympics.

Britons still want – and need – their holidays whether overseas or in theUKand where better to go than to theSouthCoast?  With the plethora of events across the area throughout the year and many beautiful places of interest to visit, Bournemouth and Poole are hard to beat and with its own micro-climate benefit from theUK’s best weather.

Value for money is important, but so is experience.  Bournecoast has been established for over 50 years and is still family run to this day.  It prides itself in providing quality properties with properties holding the Bournemouth Quality Standards awards.  For more information, visit www.Bournecoast.co.uk

Looking for a last minute easter break?

Easter is just around the corner; a time for bunnies, eggs, and family travel. Even though this is originally a religious holiday, much like Christmas it has become a cultural phenomenon that transcends religion. Many cities around the globe host lavish celebrities which draw thousands of tourists every year. If you’re still undecided on where to go, here are some of Auto Europe’s last minute suggestions for Easter.

Seville is always an Easter favourite. The dramatic costumes and the elaborate processions are only the icing on top of the cake. The mysticism surrounding the brotherhoods, as well as the charming traditional mantillas worn by the women of the city make this a unique event that shouldn’t be missed. If you have time for some sightseeing, why not pick up a car hire in Seville and head out into the countryside, making the most of the weather, already warm and sunny this time of year.

Florence is another great option for a quick Easter escapade. A beautiful city at any time of the year, the city is even lovelier dressed up for Easter, and its festivities owe nothing to Seville’s. The high point of Florence festivities is the “Scoppio del Carro”, in which a cart loaded with fireworks is lit, in a rather loud yet amazing show of colour and light.

Portugal also has its fair share of Easter festivities, with one of the most famous being the Holy Week of Braga. Located in the north of the country, this city takes its festivities seriously, and is generally considered to be the “capital” of the Holy Week in this westernmost country of Europe. The whole city is decorated in purple, and there are processions throughout the week, including the famous Procissão da Burrinha (Procession of the Donkey), so called because an image of the Virgin Mary is carried through the streets on the back of a donkey.

Travelling during Easter doesn’t just mean travelling to watch religious festivities however, and due to school holidays this is a great time to travel with the family. Why not pick up a car hire in Nice and enjoy some leisurely days testing the theory that the weather is already warm enough for a bit of sunbathing? Disneyland Paris is also a great place to spend a fun day with the kids. With Auto Europe’s low rates for car hire at over 8,000 locations around the world, the possibilities are endless.