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Outgoing International Destination

 When the choices are unlimited....

Thank to DMC Arabia who is making the right ones.

 Yes, the choices are unlimited, while the names can evoke images and arouse the imagination, each destination has an entirely new culture, the land changes, the people, their ritual, their food , the sound of their language, the history, the music, the dance, the light of the day. It’s different and yet the same One World. The DMC Arabia, we know how to tell the difference, and show it to you the way you imagine.

INDIAN OCEAN (Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius)

An Indian Ocean holiday really is the stuff of dreams; white sands, twinkling turquoise lagoons, coral reefs cloaked in clouds of fish. If you're looking for that perfect slice of paradise, it's time to call off the search - you've found it, in the sun-kissed Indian Ocean.

Life is simple on these gorgeous islands, with activities like sunbathing, swimming, sailing, parasailing, water skiing, windsurfing, jet skiing, fishing and snorkeling to take up your days. There is the dazzling array of islands and coral atolls of the Maldives and the crystal clear waters and romance of Mauritius.

Whether you're after adventure or relaxation, culture or sport, the Indian Ocean Islands are definitely well worth a visit.

Maldives
Maldives holidays are the ultimate glamorous getaway, iconic for their romantic combination of secluded, sugar white sands and clear waters. There are over 1000 islands in the Maldives, each a perfect slice of island paradise, with gardens of rainbow coral and jagged lagoons by the truckload. Most Maldives hotels are ultra-chic, serene spa hotels with world-class facilities, and there's plenty to keep thrill-seekers occupied on a Maldives holiday, with three-quarters of the world's reef fish waiting to be discovered on a deep-sea dive.
About Maldives
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Maldives holidays are the ultimate glamorous getaway, iconic for their romantic combination of secluded, sugar white sands and clear waters. There are over 1000 islands in the Maldives, each a perfect slice of island paradise, with gardens of rainbow coral and jagged lagoons by the truckload. Most Maldives hotels are ultra-chic, serene spa hotels with world-class facilities, and there's plenty to keep thrill-seekers occupied on a Maldives holiday, with three-quarters of the world's reef fish waiting to be discovered on a deep-sea dive.

A Maldives holiday is the ultimate way to relax. Get pampered in the luxurious surroundings of our range of Maldives hotels and enjoy the perfect holiday.

Doing business in Maldives

Since the islands import almost everything, business potential is high, but only in Malé. Most business takes place during the morning. An informal attitude prevails. Appointments should be made well in advance. For business meetings, men normally wear a short-sleeved shirt and tie with formal but lightweight trousers. Women wear a lightweight suit or equivalent. Handshaking is the customary form of greeting. Business cards are expected.

Office hours:

Sun-Thurs 0730-1430. Friday and Saturday are official rest days.

Economy:

Tourism, the Maldives' largest industry, accounts for 28% of GDP, and over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Fishing is the second leading sector. Agriculture and manufacturing play almost no role in the economy, constrained by limited cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labour. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building and handicrafts, accounts for about 7% of GDP.

The December 2004 tsunami left more than 100 dead, 12,000 displaced, and property damage exceeding US$300 million, though recovery has been steady and didn't affect the tourism industry particularly adversely by the standards of other tsunami-afflicted countries.

Diversifying beyond tourism and fishing is the major challenge facing the government. The new government is seeking to diversify the tourism market by introducing hotels on inhabited islands and creating a national transport network - both two things that in the past have kept independent travellers away. There is also a plan to make Maldives the world's first carbon-neutral country by 2012.

Universal Resorts (Information on Conferences/Conventions)

Universal Enterprises Ltd, 39 Orchid Magu, Malé, Republic of Maldives

Website: www.universalresorts.com

GDP:

US$1.37 billion (2009).

Main exports:

Fish.

Main imports:

Petroleum products, ships, food, clothing, intermediate and capital goods.

Main trading partners:

India, China, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Keeping in Touch in Maldives

Telephone:

The easiest way to call home is via a computer or a mobile phone. To avoid roaming charges, people at home can call your room in your resort.

Mobile phone:

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. Coverage is decent throughout the islands, though as the country is so spead out, there are still some blindspots. It’s possible to buy a local SIM card in Malé to make cheap local calls.

Internet:

The Internet can be accessed from most areas of the Maldives. Malé, the capital, has a lack of Internet cafés, but Wi-Fi is available in many other cafés. Almost all resorts have Internet connections via terminals for guest use or wireless, though these are rarely free.

Post:

Airmail to Western Europe takes about one week.

Post office hours:

Sat-Thurs 0730-1330 and 1600-1750.

Media:

Since the democratic change in the Maldives in 2008, the press has become a far freer society with a more developed civil society and media. Open debate and discussion of the governments performance is now the norm after decades of compliant and uncritical media coverage. Most media is in Divehi only, though there are several online English-language newspapers. European and American newspapers are sometimes available in international editions.

Press:

• Local dailies which publish in the Dhivehi language have some English-language pages and concentrate on local and regional topics.

• The Maldives News Bulletin is published weekly in English.

• The other dailies Aafathis Daily News, Haveeru Daily and Miadhu News have English sections.

• Information about local events is widely available on all the resort islands.

Television:

The government controls the sole TV service, Television Maldives (TVM), which operates two channels.

Radio:

• The government controls the state radio station Voice of Maldives.

• Radio Eke is also state owned.

Maldives Sites & Visits
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Addu Atoll
Beautiful Addu Atoll, the most southerly of the Maldives island groups, is definitely worth visiting for divers. Here, the coral escaped the bleaching of El Niño and is the best in the country, while a modern road linking Gan's Equator Village resort to the Maldives' second city of Hithadhoo is a great place for a bike ride.

Boat cruise

A sunset boat cruise aboard a dhoni, the wooden boat that is the Maldives' standard mode of transport, is a blissful way to end the day. You'll cruise around uninhabited islands, where you'll be served drinks and snacks while local musicians play their traditional bodu beru drums to attract dolphins.


Maldives

Diving and snorkeling

To appreciate the exceptionally varied and plentiful underwater life then goes diving or snorkeling; some of the best sites in the world are found in the Maldives. All of the resorts have professional, fully-equipped dive schools offering a range of activities.


Diving Maldives

Fishing trip

A fishing trip on a modern speedboat equipped for big game fishing is a great experience for any fisherman. Go at night to catch groupers, snappers, squirrelfish or barracuda. Round off the trip with a barbecue with the day's catch.


Hulhumalé

From Malé take a ferry trip to the nearby man-made island of Hulhumalé, a utopian town that looks set to become the new hub of the country in decades to come as sea levels rise - Hulhumalé is 2m above sea level, which is mountainous by local standards.


Local crafts
Many resorts offer day trips to inhabited islands where you can usually visit local artisans in their workshops and buy some of the beautiful local arts and crafts. Malé, the capital, also has several markets of fresh and wholesome food produce for those wanting to sample local fare.

Maldives Victory Wreck

For an unforgettable underwater experience, dive to the Maldives Victory Wreck (which sank in 1981), lying on the western side of Hulhule. This is a dive for experienced divers.


Malé

The tiny, crowded capital city of the Maldives is a fantastic place to visit for a day as it gives you the chance to see real life away from your resort, meet Maldivians on an equal footing, and take in a slice of south Asian island life.

Malé's mosques

On a visit to the capital, don’t miss the beautiful 17th-century coral stone Hukuru (Friday Mosque) in Malé. The nearby Grand Friday Mosque, topped with an enormous golden dome, is also possible to visit outside of prayer times.

Malé's National Museum
The interesting collection of artefacts, including the Sultan's thrones and palanquins, in Malé's National Museum, is well worth a visit. It's located in the city's main green space, Sult
Maldives Hotels
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Hotels :  

There are numerous resorts in the Maldives, which vary from extravagantly luxurious to fairly simple. Accommodation in the Maldives almost invariably consists of thatch-roofed coral cabanas with en suite facilities. Most of the resorts have air-conditioned rooms with mini-bar, although some of the resorts still have fan-cooled rooms. Many resort groups have recently installed desalination plants to provide clean tap water.

The resorts are fully integral communities with sport and leisure facilities including scuba-diving and snorkelling, restaurants and bars and, in some cases, a shop and/or disco. There is a shop on every resort island. Different islands tend to attract different nationalities.

Resorts specifically geared towards divers are very common in the Maldives, as it’s one of the country’s biggest attractions. The best diving resorts are a long way from other resorts, meaning that it’s rare to encounter dive groups from other islands. Dive resorts always cater to non-divers too, and each one has a good beach as well as other activities such as water sports or a spa.

Hotels in the Maldives are world class, with an unmatched range of top end luxury resorts, as well as plenty of mid-range accommodations and a smattering of cheaper (yet still not budget) diving resorts.

Malé is the only place you’ll find hotels rather than resorts. All are midrange and fairly mediocre. Business travellers used to world class hotels usually stay in one of the several resort islands near to Malé.

There are no guest houses or hotels on any of the inhabited islands, although the government have announced plans to build a network of guesthouses on inhabited islands to attract independent travellers.

Contrary to popular belief, there is a cheap end to the Maldives’ accommodation market, though it’s still relatively pricey compared to those in most Asian countries. Budget resorts in the Maldives tend to be favoured by divers and families, and many are much larger in size than the average, although there are plenty of laid back, quiet resorts in this category too.

Other accommodation:

Maldives has some incredibly unique accommodation as more and more resorts compete against each other in an increasingly busy luxury marketplace. Try Dhoni Island, a resort that boasts just eight rooms, each of which includes a fully kitted out traditional dhoni (boat) where guests can sleep, or the Conrad Maldives, which features its own underwater restaurant where you can eat a meal surrounded by fish.

Maldivian ecotourism is also thriving, and there are several top end resorts that have a very environmentally conscious set up. Be careful when choosing though – some resorts promote themselves as eco-friendly while only paying lip service to the idea. The very best resorts support projects in the local community, recycle obsessively, conserve water, don’t have swimming pools and limit the use of air conditioning.

Seychelles

Seychelles holidays are a taste of Creole culture on an island paradise. Stay in the elegant Seychelles hotels and indulge in the ultimate beach retreat, with acres of milky sands surrounded by lush tropical flowers. Spend your Seychelles holiday on any one of the teardrop islands, from the far-flung shores where your only companions are shoals of fish, to the larger islands anchored by green mountains, ripe for exploration.

 

About Seychelles
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The Republic of Seychelles comprises 115 islands occupying a land area of 455 km² and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.4 km² in the western Indian Ocean. It represents an archipelago of legendary beauty that extends from between 4 and 10 degrees south of the equator and which lies between 480km and 1,600km from the east coast of Africa.  Of these 115 islands, 41 constitute the oldest mid-oceanic granite islands on earth while a further 74 form the low-lying coral atolls and reef islands of the Outer Islands.

The granitic islands of the Seychelles archipelago cluster around the main island of Mahé, home to the international airport and the capital, Victoria, and its satellites Praslin and La Digue. Together, these Inner Islands form the cultural and economic hub of the nation and contain the majority of Seychelles’ tourism facilities as well as its most stunning beaches.

This section provides comprehensive information about the geography, climate, history, society, government, people, language, religion, culture, cuisine, recipes, arts, architecture, folklore, flora and fauna of Seychelles, and the 6 island groups that, together, make up Seychelles’ Inner and Outer Islands and lastly about investing in Seychelles.

Seychelles Sites & Visits
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The diversity of the Seychelles landscape rushes up to greet you the moment your aircraft begins its descent and promises a long list of things to do.

Seychelles is famous for having some of the best beaches in the world, pristine and uncrowded. Some are framed by age-old granite boulders. Others offer powder-soft sands, turquoise waters and sublime opportunities for swimming, snorkeling or pure relaxation.

There are great opportunities for island-hopping between the 16 islands that currently offer accommodation. These range from sumptuous 5-star resorts to rustic island lodges and cozy beachside bungalows. On your way, you will discover such gems as the legendary Vallée de Mai, home to the legendary Coco-de-Mer.

You will also find proud national monuments, beautiful Creole houses, artists' studios, national reserves and marine parks, as well as breathtaking natural wonders above and beneath the waves. Various excursions will introduce you to the pleasures of glass-bottom boating, or enjoying a choice of water sports.

There's also golf, horse-riding and guided nature tours where to enjoy some of the rarest species of flora and fauna on earth. Not forgetting the mellow Seychelles nightlife where you can take in a casino, some local bars and fine restaurants offering unforgettable Creole and international cuisine.

Please select from the sub-menu items on the left or the image icons below for more information.

 

  

 

Seychelles Hotels
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The rapidly changing face of Seychelles' accommodation scene, in which new and renovated establishments are coming on line regularly, is providing visitors with wider choice and greater options in their selection of holiday accommodation.

A wide range of affordable, new and refurbished hotels, self-caterings and charming Creole guesthouses are joining the ranks of existing 5-star hotels and exclusive island retreats to offer memorable stays among welcoming Creole people and stunning natural surrounds. 16 of Seychelles 115 islands currently offer accommodation with more expected to develop hotel facilities in the near future.

Mauritius
Experience an exotic paradise with a twist at Mauritius hotels. On Mauritius holidays you'll discover this diverse island in all its glory, as Chinese, Indian, French and Creole cultures clamor together for a totally tropical mix. This island has a character all of its own beyond the sleek hotels and scenic beaches, but the hotels in Mauritius are still the ultimate in laid-back luxury, with all-inclusive facilities and delicious local cuisine. Let the swaying sugar cane fields, clear waterfalls and jungle-covered mountains set the scene for your Mauritius holiday, and lose yourself to island life.
About Mauritius
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Customs Formalities

Passengers over 18 years of age may import the following duty-free items: 250 grams of tobacco (including cigars and cigarettes); one litre of spirits; two litres of wine, ale or beer; one quarter litre of Eau de Toilette; and perfume not exceeding 100 millilitres.

A plant import permit must be obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture prior to the introduction of plants and plant materials in to Mauritius, including cuttings, flowers, bulbs, fresh fruits, vegetables and seeds.

It is prohibited to introduce sugarcane and parts thereof, soil microorganisms and invertebrate animals. All imported animals and all other agricultural products require an import permit from the Ministry of Agriculture and a health certificate from the country of origin.

Drug trafficking carries very heavy penalties. Firearms and ammunitions require import permits and must be declared upon arrival.

Money and Banking


Banks are open to coincide with the arrival and departure of international flights at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. 

Banking Hours

·                     Monday to Thursday: 9.00am - 3.00pm

·                     Friday: 9.00am - 5.00pm

·                     Closed on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays


Credit Cards

Banks and most hotels, restaurants and tourist shops accept credit cards.

Medical Services

Free public medical facilities are widely available at hospitals and regional health centres. Private clinics provide payable medical services.

Shopping Hours


Shopping hours in Mauritius’ main cities run from 9.30am to 7.30pm (Monday to Saturday). Some shops open until noon on Sundays and public holidays. Many duty free shops and modern shopping centres offer a wide choice of products. Please note that shops only open for half-days on Thursdays in Rose-hill, Vacoas, Curepipe and Quatre-Bornes.

International Driving Licence


In Mauritius, driving is undertaken on the left-hand side of the road and drivers have to give way to traffic from the right. Visitors with a driving licence issued by a competent authority in their respective countries are allowed to drive during their stay in Mauritius.

Tipping

Tipping is common but not compulsory.

Nudism

Nudism is not allowed.

Personal Safety


A good way of preventing untoward occurrences is to ensure that:

·                     Valuables and money are kept in the hotel safe.

·                     Cars are properly locked when parked.

·                     Parking is undertaken in a well-lit area.

·                     No valuable items are left on display inside the car.

·                     Those planning a shopping trip always remember to keep their purse or wallet safe at all times.

·                     Visitors avoid displaying large sums of cash in public places.

·                     People only carry their passport when they need it.

·                     Those embarking on a sightseeing tour never leave their vehicle unattended.

·                     Emergency numbers are close at hand.


Precautions

·                     There are no poisonous reptiles or dangerous animals on the island. But nature being what it is, some small creatures can inflict painful stings. Some individuals can be allergic to wasp stings, for example.

·                     Contact a chemist or a doctor in case of several stings – particularly on the head and on the face.

·                     There are a few fish and invertebrates in Mauritian waters that are known to be harmful – namely sea urchins, stonefish and lionfish. It is advisable to enquire of their existence in the waters around a given resort. Be careful not to step on them, and consider wearing light shoes while swimming.

·                     Never drink alcohol during or just before swimming, boating or water-skiing.

·                     Whenever young children are swimming, playing or bathing, make sure an adult is constantly watching them.

·                     To prevent choking, never eat food or chew gum while swimming, diving or playing in water.

·                     If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore. Once you are out of the current, swim towards the shore.

·                     Use approved personal flotation devices such as life jackets when boating – regardless of distance to be travelled, size of the boat, or swimming ability of the boaters.


Road Safety

·                     Remember that Mauritians drive on the left.

·                     Have your driving licence endorsed at the traffic branch at Line Barracks, Port Louis.

·                     Always keep on the left-hand side of the road whenever you are on a push bike, motorcycle or any other type of vehicle in Mauritius.

·                     At roundabouts, always give way to traffic on your right.

·                     Make sure the ignition key is always removed when you leave your car.

·                     Fasten your safety belt.

·                     Kids under the age of ten years are not allowed to occupy the front passenger’s seat.

·                     Parking coupons should be displayed in payable parking bays.

·                     Avoid using mobile phones whilst driving.

Drink or drive, but never do both.
Mauritius Sites & Visits
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Beautiful beaches
Go for a swim at the northern beaches such as Trou aux Biches, shaded by casuarinas, Mont Choisy, a 2km (1.2-mile) narrow white stretch of sand curving north from there, and Péreybère, a little cove between Grand Baie and Cap Malheureux.

Black River Gorges National Park

Hike in the Black River Gorges National Park, a 6,794-hectare (16,788-acre) forest, to see indigenous plants, birds and wildlife. Black River Peak trail goes to Mauritius' highest mountain, while the Maccabee Trail starts nearby and plunges into the gorge to Black River.

Blue Bay

Snorkel or take a glass bottom boat out to see the fish and coral in Blue Bay, Mauritius' only marine park. Or better still, take a luxury excursion to the private island just off the coast, Iles des Deux Cocos to explore it from there.

Casela Bird Park
Families should head to Casela Bird Park (www.caselayemen.mu) in the west. With 90 aviaries on 25 hectares (61 acres), it has more than 140 bird varieties, from five continents. The main attraction is the pink pigeon, one of the world's rarest birds.

Central Market
Go souvenir shopping at Port Louis' bustling Central Market, the craft market at The Caudan Waterfront (www.caudan.com) or shopping centres around the island. Bargain hunt in Chinese and Indian shops in the inland towns.

Chamarel coloured earths

An extraodrinary natural phenmomenon, the famous coloured earths of Chamarel are believed to have been formed by various rock stratas cooling at different speeds following volcanic activity here millions of years ago. They’re certainly a beautiful sight, and the nearby waterfall is another reason to visit.

Climb Le Pouce
For a spectacular 360-degree view of Port Louis and the north, climb Le Pouce or 'the thumb', at 812m (2,664ft). It is an easy two-hour climb from the village of La Laura, and takes another two hours to walk into Port Louis.

Dine in Domaine du Chasseur
For an adventurous lunch of roasted wild boar, duck or deer curry with one of the best island views, try Domaine du Chasseur's alfresco Panoramour Restaurant. This domaine is the best place to glimpse the Mauritius kestrel in the wild.

Explore the islands by boat

Take a speedboat from Trou d'eau Douce to the popular island playground of Ile aux Cerfs for beaches, golf and watersports. Or, for a quieter day, a catamaran to the Northern Islands - Gabriel Island, Flat Island and Gunner's Quoin.

Go diving
Go diving on the west coast around Flic-en-Flac or in the north, at Trou aux Biches or the Northern Islands from November to April. The Mauritius Scuba Diving Association (MSDA) can provide further information (www.msda.mu).

Grand Baie
Head to Grand Baie, for watersports such as parasailing, an underwater walk, submarine and semi-submersible scooters, or to La Cuvette, a long silky beach with clear water between Grand Baie and Cap Malheureux, for sailing, windsurfing and waterskiing.

Grand Bassin

Follow the pilgrimage route to Grand Bassin, a natural crater lake and sacred Hindu site up on Plaine Champagne. A new 33m- (108ft-) high Shiva statue heralds the entrance to the few temples heaving with colour, incense and people at festival time.

Ile aux Aigrettes

This nature reserve (www.ile-aux-aigrettes.com) lies off the coast of Mauritius and is home to several species that you’ll find in the wild almost nowhere else in the world, including the pink pigeon, giant Aldabra tortoises and Telfair’s skink. 90 minute visits to the island leave daily from near Mahébourg.

Le Souffleur
Head to the untamed south coast to see unusual rock formations such as the blowhole at Le Souffleur, a natural rock bridge at Pont Naturel and at the wild clifftop of Gris Gris, near Souillac, a rock shaped like a witch.

Mahébourg

Visit the most characterful town on the island, Mahébourg, and head to its new waterfront forgajaks (snacks) and a view across the bay of Grand Port, the site of the famous 1810 naval battle, to Lion Mountain.

Mauritius Aquarium

Visit Mauritius Aquarium (www.mauritiusaquarium.com) in the north, populated by 200 species of fish, invertebrates, live coral and sponges originating from the waters around the island. It also has a touch pool for children.

National History Museum

Visit the National History Museum (www.mauritiusmuseums.org) in Mahébourg in the southeast to see the bell from the shipwreck of Le San Geran that inspired Mauritius' most famous romantic legend, Paul & Virginie, and rooms dedicated to the Dutch, French and British periods.

Pamplemousses Gardens
Stroll around Pamplemousses Gardens, the third oldest botanical gardens in the world, created in the 18th century. Its international collection of plants includes giant Amazon lilies and the talipot palm, which flowers once every 60 years, then dies.

Port Louis
Walk around the capital, Port Louis, to see fine colonial architecture such as Government House atop the palm-lined Place d'Armes. Gaze at one of the world's rarest stamps at the Blue Penny Museum or gawk at dodo skeletons in the Natural History Museum (www.mauritiusmuseums.org).

Quad bike
Tour the Moka mountains by quad bike, horse or 4-wheel drive at the accessible 1,500-hectare (3,700-acre) nature park of Domaine Les Pailles (www.domainelespailles.net). Travel to the sugar mill and rum distillery by train or horse-drawn carriage before dining in one of four restaurants.

Rodrigues Island
Tiny, rugged, volcanic Rodrigues Island (www.rodrigues-island.org) lies 550km (340 miles) northeast of Mauritius and is known as the 'anti-stress' island. The capital, Port Mathurin, is only seven streets wide, with a Creole population. Rodrigues offers walking, diving, kitesurfing, deep sea fishing and fabulously empty white sand beaches.

The Crocodile Park
La Vanille Réserve des Mascareignes (www.lavanille-reserve.com) is commonly referred to as 'The Crocodile Park', for its thousands of Nile crocodiles. It is the only place worldwide to breed aldabra tortoises and also has deer, monkeys, boar and an insectarium.

 

Mauritius Hotels
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The line between hotels and resorts in Mauritius can be fairly blurred, but there are many large, self-contained beach resorts offering every service and amenity from babysitting to windsurfing. Most resorts are scattered along the country’s best beaches – particularly along the south coast and the east coasts.

There is an abundance of hotels throughout the island, most of them hugging the coast. Mauritius standards and service are known to be the best in the Indian Ocean.

From June to September, and during the Christmas and Easter holidays, reservations should be made in advance. A 10% tax is added to all hotel bills.

Grading: Although there is no official grading system away from the international chains, many of whom have hotels on the island, Mauritius has a higher density of 5-star hotels than anywhere else in the world. Most of Mauritius' hotel inventory is 4 and 5 star; even 3-star hotels provide a 5-star welcome.

There are also plenty of budget options, increasing with the trend for visitors to book over the Internet. These include family-run chambre d'hôtes, self-catering campements or weekend houses, beach bungalows and villas and lodges or even rental of colonial outhouses in the interior. They can be found throughout the island, although mainly in tourist centres - in the north around Grand Baie and in the west around Flic-en-Flac.

Bed and Breakfast:

So called chambre d’hôte accommodation (the French equivalent of bed and breakfast) is an extremely popular and excellent value option. These rooms tend to be of higher quality and in more charming surroundings than the term ‘bed and breakfast’ suggests in English – the very best are downright luxurious. Many also offer table d’hôte, or a lavish homecooked meal hosted by the owners – a great way to meet fellow travellers and locals in a relaxed and friendly setting.

Other accommodation:


Self-catering is a great option in Mauritius, as there are plenty of good markets and supermarkets to buy food, and there’s no shortage of apartments and houses for holiday rentals. You’ll find plenty of self-catering units in and around Flic-en-Flac and along the northern coast.

Mauritius has some wonderfully unique accommodation opportunities including the chance to stay in bamboo cottages high in the hills of beautiful Domaine du Chasseur hunting reserve, taking a small lodge on the colonial-era estate of Eureka near the town of Moka, or by staying at the luxurious Le Touessrok Hotel, which has its own desert island for you to lounge about on.

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Sri Lanka

 

Sri Lanka's ancient name is 'Serendib' meaning 'serendipity', and a 'happy and unexpected discovery'. Sri Lanka holidays more than live up to this promise, with Buddhist Shrines, tea fields and the calming waves of the Indian Ocean lapping at a golden shore. Sri Lanka holidays are also famous for their wildlife, and you'll discover elephants in their natural habitat, and a whole host of tropical delights when hiking or trekking through the jungle. Sri Lanka holiday packages were made for laid back island life, with a healthy dose of activities for the more adventurous traveler.

 

About Sri Lanka
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History of Sri Lanka

A long-awaited deal between Sri Lanka's government and the rebel Tamil Tigers (LTTE) was concluded in early 2002. However, fighting became much more serious in 2006. Much of the country became no-go areas for tourists. The most serious fighting was in the northeast part of the country where the Tamil people were in majority. There were isolated attacks, however, throughout the rest of the country, notably in Colombo with a suicide bomb and in Yala National Park.

In 2009, the government, which had escalated their offensive, announced that the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakran, had been killed during a gun battle. It ended 26 years of fighting with the LTTE – time will tell whether the LTTE has finally stopped fighting. Immediately after the war was declared over by the government, it set up camps for 250,000 displaced Tamils. However, these camps were condemned by some human rights organisations because it is alleged they were used to find rebels, and then execute them.

In January 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa won a landslide election against former army chief General Sarath Foneska who led the final attack on the LTTE.

In August 2010, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office removed the final travel restrictions across all of the country. It has effectively allowed tourists (who previously wouldn’t have been able to get insured) to tour the entire country for the first time since the 1990s. In 2009, the Sri Lankan stock market was one of the best performing in the world.

Sri Lanka Culture

Religion:

Buddhist majority (70%), with Hindu, Christian and Muslim minorities.

Social conventions:

Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. It is customary to be offered tea when visiting and it is considered impolite to refuse. Punctuality is appreciated. A small token of appreciation, such as a souvenir from home or company, is always welcomed. Informal, Western dress is suitable, except when visiting Buddhist temples, where modest clothing should be worn (eg no bare legs and upper arms). Visitors should be decently clothed when visiting any place of worship, and shoes and hats must be removed. Jackets and ties are not required by men in the evenings except for formal functions when lightweight suits should be worn.

Language in Sri Lanka

Sinhala, Tamil and English.

Doing business in Sri Lanka

Businesswear is casual. English is widely spoken in business circles. Appointments are necessary and it is considered polite to arrive punctually. It is usual to exchange business cards on first introduction.

Office hours:

Mon-Fri 0900-1700.

Economy:

Although some parts of the economy have suffered severe dislocation as a result of the tsunami and civil war, especially the tourist industry, it has performed reasonably well over recent years. This was reflected in the GDP growth rate of 7.4% in 2006. Unemployment was also estimated to be 7.6% in 2006, but inflation reached 13.7%.

Agriculture (including tea, rubber, coconuts) sustains about one-third of the working population and contributes around a fifth of GDP. Forestry and fishing are also important.

The main industrial sectors are mining (gemstones and graphite particularly), and manufacturing (especially cement and textiles). Hydroelectricity is the main source of power, supplemented by imported oil.

In the service sector, tourism has been stunted by the civil war, but banking and insurance have both been performing well. The government is now consolidating its progress with market-oriented policies by implementing further deregulation, fiscal reform and privatisation.

GDP:

US$96.4 billion (2009).

Main exports:

Textiles and clothing, tea, spices, rice, sugarcane, precious stones (including diamonds), coconut products and fish.

Main imports:

Textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, food, machinery and transportation equipment.

Main trading partners:

India, USA, UK, China (PR) and Singapore.

Keeping in Touch in Sri Lanka

Telephone:

Phone cards are available at post offices and shops.

Mobile phone:

Roaming agreements exist with some international mobile phone companies. Coverage in the south and west is good; in the north and east it is average.

Internet:

There are Internet cafés in most towns and resorts.

Post:

Overseas mail usually takes 10 to 14 days.

Post office hours:

Mon-fri, 0830-1700, and Sat, 0830-1300.

Media:

The diverse press is divided along linguistic and ethnic lines. Many broadcasters and publications are state-owned. The Daily News is a state-run English-language daily newspaper, whilst the Daily Mirror is a private English-language daily newspaper. There are various state and privately-run television and radio stations available.

Press:

• Daily News is a state-run English-language daily.

• Daily Mirror is a private English-language daily.

• The Island is a private English-language daily.

• Lankadeepa is a private Sinhala daily.

• Uthayan Private Tamil-language daily.

Television:

• Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) is a state-owned network that operates two channels,Rupavahini and Channel Eye.

• Private English-language stations include MTV and TNL.

Radio:

• Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) is a state-owned network that operates services in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

• Privately owned English radio stations include TNL Rocks, Sun FM and Yes FM.

Sri Lanka Sites & Visits
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Abundant wildlife

Spy on Sri Lanka's abundant wildlife (much of which is found nowhere else on earth) in the country's various sanctuaries and national parks. Birdwatching is superb, and as well as the famous elephants there are also leopards, deer, bears, wild boar, porcupines and monkeys to see.

Adam’s Peak

Sri Lanka’s highest mountain is deeply ingrained in Sri Lankan folk lore. Also known as Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint) because of an indentation at the summit, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians all consider it a holy place and a popular pilgrammage site, with 4,800 steps to the top.

Ancient capital of Anuradhapura

Wonder at the extraordinary civilization that ruled from the ancient capital of Anuradhapura thousands of years ago. Its majestic remains testify to an advanced city carefully planned and filled with beautiful palaces, temples and giant stupas.

Ayurvedic treatments

Sri Lanka specialises in Ayurveda, meaning ‘science of life’ it’s the oldest medical system in the world. Despite its medical heritage, for visitors its purely for relaxation purposes. All hotels will offer some treatments. Don’t miss out.

Beautiful beaches

Enjoy sunbathing and swimming along Sri Lanka's 1,600km (1,000 miles) of beautiful palm-shaded beaches. Good resorts include Beruwela, Bentota, Mount Lavinia Negombo and Hikkaduwa. Meanwhile Unawatuna in Galle claims to be among the top 15 beaches in the world. Palm-fringed golden swathes of sand are particularly commonplace around the resort centre of Negombo and along the southern coast. Swimming can be dangerous in the south.

Catch a cricket match

Cricket is played on every scrap of land in Sri Lanka. Impromptu games are always striking up on the beach and in the street, and the cricket-mad locals are always happy for an extra pair of hands. It’s easy to catch a professional game too.

Colombo

In Colombo, root out bargains in the Pettah market, marvel at the blossoms in the Vihara Maha Devi Park between March and early May, and sample the offerings of some of the country's best restaurants.

Colourful festivals

Immerse yourself in one of Sri Lanka's many colourful festivals. Most involve huge processions of glittering elephants, dancers and drummers. The best-known is Esala Perahera in Kandy; Vel Festival in Colombo is also spectacular.

Dambulla Cave Temples

These impressively conserved temples are a unique insight into Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heritage. Tucked away beneath a massive rocky outcrop, they shelter an extensive collection of religious murals and exquisite buddhas in a variety of postions. The views are fabulous too.

Diving and snorkelling

Diving or snorkelling is excellent all around the coast. Glimpse the country's thriving coral reefs and their myriad multi-hued inhabitants. Colourful diving spots include Bentota and Hikkaduwa in the south west of Sri Lanka, which also have underwater caves and shipwrecks to explore.

Dutch fort of Galle

Ramble around coastal ramparts, colonial villas and atmospheric streets in the striking Dutch fort of Galle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps the most atmospheric of Sri Lankan towns, cobbled streets are lined with colonial villas and hotels. Its literary festival (www.galleliteraryfestival.com) in January is one of the best in the world. Galle is also a centre for crafts that include lace-making, ebony-carving and gem-polishing.

Elephant orphanage

Ride an elephant; it'll make you feel like Asian royalty rolling from side to side and looking down on the passing scenery. Wild elephants can be seen in sizeable numbers in several national parks, and there is a well-known elephant orphanage at Pinnawela.

Go hiking

Hiking through diverse landscapes, especially the rainforest and cloudforest of the hilly interior, is excellent. Popular trekking destinations include Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka's highest point at 2,243m (7,358ft), World's End in the highlands, near Nuwara Eliya, and the Knuckles wilderness area near Kandy.

Go surfing

Surfers have returned to Sri Lanka as the travel restrictions have lifted. There are some fantastic breaks along the southern coast where swells can reach impressive heights, especially Hikkaduwa, Midigama and Arugam Bay (near Potuvil). The best time to go is in January and February.

Kandy

Visit Kandy, a picturesque town that was the last stronghold of the Kandyan Kings. It is now a cultural sanctuary where age-old customs, arts, crafts, rituals and ways of life are well preserved. Its fabulous UNESCO-listed Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) (www.sridaladamaligawa.lk) shelters the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha.

Negombo

See Sri Lanka's oldest and best-known fishing village, Negombo, also a popular resort near Katunayake International Airport. It stands on a strand separating the sea from a lagoon. The seafood here, particularly the shellfish, is superb.

Pigeon Island

Off the north eastern shore of Sri Lanka, this island is surrounded by a limestone reef which harbours 100 species of coral and more than 300 different types of fish. Declared a marine sanctuary in 1963, it’s a prime destination for divers, and pigeons.

Polonnaruwa Buddha

See the huge reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa, an ancient capital and another UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its remains of royal palaces, temples and stupas. It also has a superb museum, one of the country's best.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Be amazed by Sri Lanka's best-known attraction, UNESCO-listed Sigiriya Rock Fortress. This stunning fifth-century palace-fortress perches atop a towering rock outcrop above the plains in the country's centre. Steps lead up from water gardens below and past murals of heavenly nymphs.

Tea plantations

Trail your morning tea to its source in Sri Lanka's highlands: inhale the delicious aromas of Victorian-era tea factories, drink their finest and roam the lush tea plantations. The Nuwara Eliya hill station is a popular destination.

White-water rafting

Head to the village of Kitulgala, tucked away amid ravines in the hill country, to enjoy both beginners-standard and high-adrenaline white-water rafting.

Yala National Park

Explore Sri Lanka's most popular wildlife-viewing destination, Yala National Park, on the southeast coast. It is home to the world's highest density of leopards, as well as a wealth of other species - from elephants to birds. Another great place to do a bit of leopard spotitng is in the Wilpattu National Park.

 

Sri Lanka Hotels
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Hotels:

A network of domestic resorts in prime locations has been set up in Nuwara Eliya, Bandarawela, Anuradhapura, Kataragama and Bentota. Accommodation is comfortable and moderately priced.

Sri Lanka offers a wide choice of accommodation. There are several international-class 5-star hotels, mostly in the area around Negombo and along the southern coast near Galle. There are also many park bungalows run by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, which are furnished and equipped for comfort rather than sophistication.

Grading: Hotels are classified from 1 to 5 stars.

Bed and breakfast:

Inns, guest houses and rest houses offer comfortable but informal accommodation.

Other accommodation:

For visitors who would like to get to know the Sri Lankans and see how they live, arrangements can be made to stay in private homes or on a tea or rubber plantation. 

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India

India is a beautiful and bamboozling place, where holy cows amble along the streets, bask on heavenly beaches next to modern hotels and where ancient temples sit perfectly at home besides shiny new offices.

About India
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India’s history is its essence, ungraspable but never far away. Its thousands of years have seen hundreds of invasions, the rise and fall of myriad empires and colonisation by the Mughals (who built the Taj Mahal), Portuguese (the first European powers to arrive and the last to leave, in 1961), the French, who established themselves in Puducherry (Pondicherry).

Perhaps the most well-known of India’s colonisers were the British. The Mughals granted British traders a licence to trade in Bengal in the 17th century; by the early 19th century India was effectively under British control but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century, following the Indian Mutiny in 1857, that the British government took over administration of India from the East India Company.

Notions of Indian independence were temporarily pushed aside at the start of the 20th century and India fought alongside Britain in two world wars. It was during this time that one of India’s greatest political figures came to the forefront. Mahatma Gandhi preached a policy of equality to be gained through passive resistance. In 1942 he introduced the ‘Quit India’ campaign and was imprisoned, not for the first time, for subversive behaviour. Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948, not long after India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

With independence came the decision to divide India into Muslim and Hindu territories; a decision that is reaping the seeds of discontent even today. Indian foreign policy continues to be dominated by relations with Pakistan. The main cause of friction is the status of Jammu & Kashmir, a disputed territory straddling both India and Pakistan.

In July 2007 Pratibha Patil became India's first female president and her supporters hailed her election as a victory for women. She succeeded APJ Abdul Kalam, an esteemed scientist and the architect of the country's missile programme.

India Culture

Religion:

About 80% Hindu, 13% Muslim, with Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Buddhist minorities.

Social conventions:

The traditional Hindu greeting is to fold the hands, tilt the head forward and say namaste. Indian women generally prefer not to shake hands. All visitors are asked to remove footwear when entering places of religious worship. Most Indians also remove their footwear when entering their homes; visitors should follow suit. Many Hindus are vegetarian and many, especially women, do not drink alcohol. Most Sikhs and Parsis do not smoke. Women are expected to dress modestly and men should also dress respectfully. Women should not wear short skirts and tight or revealing clothing, although there is a more casual approach to clothing in Goa.

Language in India

Hindi is the official language of India and, used by about 40% of the population, India’s most widely spoken. English is also enshrined in the constitution for a wide range of official purposes. In addition, 18 regional languages are recognised by the constitution. These include Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya and Punjabi, which are used in respective regions, and Tamil and Telugu, which are common in the south. Other regional languages include Kannada, Malayalam and Marathi. The Muslim population largely speaks Urdu.

Doing business in India

English is widely used in commercial circles, so there is little need for translation services. Indian businesspeople welcome visitors and are generally very hospitable. The common spoken greeting ‘namaste’, is normally accompanied by placing both hands together, as if in prayer, and tilting the head forward. Indian women may prefer not to shake hands, although men are comfortable with it. Unless invited to address a person by their first name, use Mr/Mrs/Dr and the surname. Business cards are an important part of networking. A suit is considered the proper form of business attire. Business hours are generally 0930-1730.

Corporate entertaining is important but bear in mind the cultural etiquette. Indians only eat with the right hand. The left hand is used for less savoury actions, such as removing shoes. Gifts and business cards should be accepted with the right hand or both hands at the same time, as a sign of respect.

If you're invited to an Indian home for dinner, you may not eat until after 2300. However, once dinner is over, the party is at an end, the guest may depart without giving offence. Shoes should be removed when entering a private home and try to avoid pointing your feet at anyone. It is customary to wash one's hands before and after a meal.

Drinking, especially at lunchtime, should be avoided until visitors are certain of the host's opinion. Even then, alcohol should always be consumed in moderation.

Office hours:

Mon-Fri 0930-1730, Sat 0930-1300.

Economy:

Roughly 52% of the population is involved in agriculture, both subsistence (mainly cereals) and cash crops, including rice, tea, rubber, coffee and cotton.

India's main industrial development has been in engineering, iron and steel, chemicals, electronics and textiles. Since the 1990s, trade has been liberalised, the sprawling public sector cut back, and some state-owned industries sold off.

India ranks among the top ten in the world by gross national product. The economy has resumed its healthy growth rate, currently at around 8.5% per annum, while inflation is at 8.7%. The unemployment rate hovers around 9.4%. Further improvements to the national infrastructure and basic services are now seen as the priority for central and regional governments.

Main exports:

Textiles, gems and jewellery, technology services, chemicals and leather manufactured goods.

Main imports:

Crude oil, machinery, gems, iron, steel, fertiliser and chemicals.

Mobile phone:

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies. Coverage is limited to major towns but is increasing all the time.

Internet:

The internet can be reliably accessed from an increasing number of hotels and from internet cafés across the country, many now with Wi-Fi.

Post:

Mail services are generally good, but delivery times are variable. Airmail service to Western Europe or the US takes up to two weeks.

Post office hours:

Regional variations, but generally Mon-Sat 1000-1300 and 1330-1630 in bigger towns and cities.

Media:

The state's TV monopoly was broken in 1992, resulting in a boom of private channels. News and entertainment shows are especially popular and a number of 24-hour news channels operate in India. India’s cable TV market is one of the world’s largest. Public TV is run by Doordarshan, while STAR Plus, owned by News Corporation, is one of the most popular private channels. Private radio stations were sanctioned in 2000, but only public All India Radio is allowed to broadcast news. Newspaper circulation has risen, thanks to a growing middle class, as has the number of Internet users to over 100 million. Many newspapers are in English; the most important include The Economic Times, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Punjab Kesari, Deccan Herald, The Statesman, The Pioneer and The Times of India

India Sites & Visits
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Andaman Islands

Snorkel in the Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal - a lushly forested archipelago that has exotic plant life and a wide variety of corals and tropical fish. The best sites for diving around the islands are more difficult to reach remote. It is also home to India's only active volcano.

Beaches

Mumbai (Bombay) has Juhu and Chowpatty, while Goa offers some of the nation's most sublime beaches and resorts. Marina Beach in Chennai (Madras) is the second largest in the world. The lush state of Kerala includes the famous beach at Kovalam.

Bollywood and Bombay

Escape Indian stereotypes in Mumbai (Bombay), the capital of Maharashtra, where a bustling port and the country's commercial hub, Mumbai’s plate-glass skyscrapers and modern industry jostle alongside ramshackle bazaars and a hectic street life. The city is also the home of the prolific film industry. Welcome to 'Bollywood'!

Camel safari

Experience India's sprawling deserts from the back of a camel. Make sure you camp overnight to experience the desert’s incredibly clear array of stars. Coincide your visit with one of the annual festivals such as Jaisalmer’s Desert Festival (January/February) and Pushkar’s fascinating Camel Fair (October).

Delhi

Encounter the two sides of Delhi: New Delhi is a modern city, offering Lutyens' architecture; 'Old' Delhi is several centuries old, with narrow, winding streets, ancient shrines and rambunctious bazaars. See the Red Fort, the nearby Jama Masjid (India's largest mosque) and the Qutab Minar's soaring tower.

Deserts

Experience India's sprawling deserts from the back of a camel. Make sure you camp overnight to experience the desert’s incredibly clear array of stars. Time your visit to coincide with one of the annual festivals such as Jaisalmer’s Desert Festival (January/February) and Pushkar’s fascinating Camel Fair (November).

Durga Puja

Take part in the Durga Puja (September/October) in Kolkata (Calcutta). One of the biggest Hindu religious festivals in India, it is full of colour and noise, held in honour of the goddess Durga.

Goa

Although much less mellow than in the heady days of the 1960s, there are still some fabulous full moon parties in places such as Anjuna. Time your visit for the spectacular Carnival for bustling fun, as crowds throng to watch the lavish floats pass by and dance the night away.

Gulmarg

Play golf on one of the highest golf course in the world, at Gulmarg. From here there are good views of Nanga Parbat, one of the highest mountains on earth. In winter, Gulmarg is transformed into a lively ski resort (www.skihimalaya.com).

Hill stations

Head for the cool hill stations to retreat from the heat of the plains. Some of the most renowned hill stations include Shimla (Himachal Pradesh), Darjeeling (West Bengal), Ooty (Tamil Nadu), Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu) and the incredibly beautiful Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) with its lotus-strewn Dal Lake.

Hindu festivals

Take part in the Durga Puja (September/October) in Kolkata (Calcutta). One of the biggest Hindu religious festivals in India, it is full of colour and noise, held in honour of the goddess Durga. Other Hindu festivals to watch out for include Diwali, Ganesha Chaturthi and Kumbh Mela.

Holy temples

Orissa state is famous for temples. Bhubaneswar has some particularly notable temples, including the Lingaraj Temple. Puri, a holy Hindu place of pilgrimage, stages Rath Yatra in June or July, where icons of gods are drawn on massive chariots. Konarak is known for its striking ‘Sun Temple '

Kashmir

Wonder at Kashmir's flower-spangled meadows, icy mountain peaks and clear rivers. Jammu is the railhead for Srinagar, the ancient Mughal capital. Lake Dal has houseboats where visitors can live surrounded by scenery so beautiful it is known as 'paradise on earth'.

Kerala

A complete break from India's urban grit, cruise along the tropical backwaters of Kerala, pausing en route to visit rustic villages and assorted tourist sites. Sample the region’s renowned cuisine whilst you’re there including seafood flavoured in light coconut curries.

Kolkata

Go east to Kolkata (Calcutta), capital of West Bengal. It is a major business centre with many markets, bazaars and impressive, if crumbling, colonial buildings. Central Kolkata contains the Maidan, the central parkland.

Music and dance

Listen to the evocative instruments of Indian music, such as the sitar, sarod and the subtle rhythm of the tabla. There is also a variety of dance forms to marvel at, each with its own costumes and elaborate language of gestures.

National parks

Explore the wildlife in over 70 national parks, 400 wildlife sanctuaries and 17 biosphere reserves. The Indian tiger and the Asiatic elephant are still found in certain regions. Among the best known reserves are Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Rajasthan), Ranthambore National Park (Rajasthan), Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh), Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand) and Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (West Bengal).

Rajasthan

Visit the most romantic city in Rajasthan, Udaipur. Known as the ‘Venice of the East’, it is built around the lovely Lake Pichola and is famed for its breathtaking Lake Palace Hotel as well as being a key filming location for the James Bond film, Octopussy. The rest of Rajasthan is famous for its colourful people and fairy-tale castles and forts.

River Ganges

Brave the crowds that throng the sacred River Ganges. Along its bank is the wondrous city of Varanasi, one of India's holiest Hindu locations with its ghats which, at dawn, are mobbed with pilgrims and holy men performing ritual ablutions and prayers.

Sikkim

Go mountaineering or trekking in the pristine landscape of Sikkim. Shimla, in Himachal Pradesh, is the base for treks into the beautiful Kullu Valley, while Kodaikanal is a popular base for treks in Tamil Nadu.

Taj Mahal and the Golden Triangle

Discover the area known as the 'Golden Triangle' with its many stunning attractions. Delhi sits at the heart of the area with Agra in the southeast with the iconic Taj Mahal. To the southwest, in Rajasthan, is Jaipur, the vibrant 'Pink City'. Visit the Amber Fort and the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). To the southeast of the triangle lies Khajuraho with its famous erotic friezes.

Tea plantations

Find out where your humble cuppa comes from with a tour of one of India’s tea plantations. Watch the tea pickers at work and learn how the leaves are processed. Head to the cool mountain town of Darjeeling, Assam or The Nilgris for the best brews.

Temples of Ajanta

Observe stunning rock-cut temples all over India including the Buddhist cave temples at Ajanta, which date back at least 2,000 years, and Khajuraho with its famous erotic friezes. The caves at Ellora depict religious stories and are Hindu, Buddhist and Jain in origin.

India Hotels
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Hotels:

Hotels in India offer the whole gamut of possibilities, from premier 5-star establishments and Heritage Hotels (converted historic palace buildings) to budget backpacker affairs and delightful back-to-basics beach huts. Modern and boutique hotels are available in all large cities and popular tourist centres. Business people are also well catered for. To experience full-on lavishness there are a number of palace hotels in Rajasthan and Shimla. Hotel services in the luxury and business range are comparable with other major cities and therefore can be very pricey particularly during tourist high season which runs from early October to February. However, even if you are not staying in 5-star hotels you can still enjoy some of the luxury by booking in a spa service or have a meal at one of the restaurants.

Hotel bills may be subject to a 10% expenditure tax, 7-15% luxury tax and a variable service charge.

Grading: Hotels in India range from 5-star deluxe, 5- and 4-star hotels, which are fully air conditioned with all luxury features, 3-star hotels, which are functional and have air-conditioned rooms, to 2- and 1-star hotels, which offer basic amenities.

Bed and breakfast:

Bed and breakfasts are increasingly popular alternatives offering a more personal and local touch. The Government of India’s Ministry of Tourism (http://tourism.gov.in/TourismDivision/HotelList.aspx?Name=Hotels and Restaurants&HCID=17) has an updated, but not very user-friendly, list of approved B&Bs across India in two categories - gold and silver. There are set guidelines for owners to gain approval in each category.

Camping:

Campsites are scattered throughout India, but are few and far between. Some hotels may permit camping on their grounds for a small fee which includes bathroom use. The easiest way to camp in India is with a tour operator.

Other accommodation:

Hostels: The Department of Tourism has set up several hostels, spread throughout many regions. Each has a capacity of about 40 beds or more, segregated roughly half and half into male and female dormitories. Beds with mattresses, sheets, blankets, wardrobe (often with locks), electric light points, member kitchen utensils and parking areas are usually available at each hostel. Some hostels are more impressive than others.

Tourist bungalow: There are tourist bungalows at almost every tourist centre in the country, under the control of the respective State Government Tourist Development Corporation. These usually include single, double and family rooms, most with attached bathrooms. Some properties have kitchen facilities, others can arrange meals.

Eco-style Hotels: Get up close and personal with nature in India through a range of eco-friendly accommodations such as luxury tents while tiger spotting in Ranthambore; check out a tea plantation and hike in the wilderness or mosey down the backwaters in Kerala in a house-boat.

Ashrams: Travellers seeking spirituality and ways to reset the mind and soul need look no further than India’s many ashrams catering to specific mental and physical needs. Sometimes there is a small charge for food and accommodation which is often basic, communal and separated according to gender. Courses in yoga and meditation may be offered at additional costs.

Homestays: These are another attractive option for those looking for a good-value, authentic visit. Try Mahindra Homestays

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Far East Countries

For sheer variety of experience, there is nowhere quite like the Far East. Holidays to this archetypal melting pot of cultures and cuisines will dazzle the senses and soothe the soul. Throw in some of the world's finest beaches and friendliest faces, and you have all the ingredients for the Far East holiday of a lifetime.

Singapore
Famed for its excellent fusion food, shopping on the original Orchard Road or now in some of the more modern areas plus of course the obligatory Singapore Sling, Singapore is a wonderful place to spend a few days soaking up the culture. The great central location in the Far East ensures Singapore is a great stopover destination for Australasia holidays, excellent twin centre with other Far East destinations including Bintan or, as it is now, enough to satisfy even the eager of travellers as a one stop destinationa
About Singapore
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Doing business in Singapore

English is widely spoken in business circles. Appointments should be made and punctuality is important. Chinese people should be addressed with their surnames, which are the first part of their names. Malays normally use their personal name followed by bin (son of) or binti (daughter of) and then their father's name; common abbreviations include Mohd (Mohammed). Many Indians do not use surnames but instead place the initial of their father's name before their own.
English is the official language of business in Singapore and business is conducted very much on a Western model. However, Asian (and especially Chinese) business ethics often prevail. Business cards are exchanged on every social and business occasion and it is common courtesy to give or receive them with two hands (as with any piece of paper, including money).
Corporate entertaining is high on the agenda and long lunches are often taken, with lavish buffets a popular option. Smoking is prohibited in many places and is not always socially acceptable, so visitors should check before lighting up. Business dress is fairly formal, though a jacket is usually dispensed with apart from at official meetings. Women wear skirts or trouser suits. Some organisations have adopted casual Fridays, although only those departments with no client contact tend to take advantage of this.
Locals and expats alike work long hours; the official working day is roughly 0900-1700 but much longer hours are quite common. There are 11 public holidays a year, the most significant being the Chinese New Year which is in January or February. This is the only occasion when almost everything shuts down - locals spend time visiting their families and expats leave for a long weekend away. During other public holidays, like Christmas Day, banks and offices close but shops stay open.
Office hours: 
Mon-Fri 0900-1300 and 1400-1700, Sat 0900-1300 if open.
Economy: 
The Singapore Model combines extensive state intervention in matters such as housing and labour with a strong free market ideology. Since the late 1970s, the government has promoted export-oriented and service industries with the intention of making Singapore a regional economic hub.
Today the country relies on entrepôt trade in particular, as well as shipbuilding and repairing, oil refining, electronics and information technology, banking and finance and, to a lesser extent, tourism. The country has weathered recent global economic conditions well and in 2011, Singapore came out at the top of the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index.
Singapore's only significant natural resource is its natural harbour, which is the busiest in the world. This accounts in part for the high level of Singapore's re-export trade, which accounts for almost half of all trade. There is a little agriculture, with the cultivation of plants and vegetables, and some fishing; however, most foodstuffs and raw materials have to be imported.
Singapore is the top convention city in Asia and ranks among the top 10 meetings destinations in the world. There are many hotels with extensive conference facilities, including the latest audio-visual equipment, secretarial services, translation and simultaneous interpretation systems, whilst Raffles City, a self-contained convention city, can accommodate up to 6,000 delegates under one roof. Other popular venues for larger conventions and exhibitions include Suntec Singapore and Singapore Expo.
Full information on Singapore as a conference destination can be obtained from the Exhibition & Convention Bureau within the Singapore Tourism Board. The bureau is a non-profitmaking organisation with the dual objectives of marketing Singapore as an international exhibition and convention city and of assisting with the planning and staging of individual events.
GDP: 
US$264 billion (2011 est.)
Main exports: 
Machinery and equipment, consumer goods, chemicals and mineral fuels.
Main imports: 
Machinery and equipment, mineral fuels, chemicals, food and consumer goods.
Telephone: 
Public telephone booths take phone cards, and sometimes credit cards, and can be used to make both local and international calls. For the latter it is usually cheaper to purchase a pre-paid international calling card; these are readily available due to the large number of migrant workers in Singapore.
Mobile phone: 
Roaming agreements exist with international mobile phone companies, although it’s also cheap and easy to buy a local SIM card (passports must be shown when making the purchase). Coverage is good.
Internet: 
Internet cafes throughout Singapore provide public access to internet and email services. Most hotels and hostels offer Internet access, but there is also a free city-wide Wi-Fi service called Wireless@SG. Visitors can register either online or by telephone.
Post: 
The postal system is very efficient, and airmail takes up to six working days to the UK and eight working days to the US. In addition to Singapore Post offices, there are limited postal facilities at many hotels.
Post office hours: 
Varies but typically Mon-Fri 0830-1700, Sat 0830-1300. The airport branches are open longer hours (daily 0800–2130 in the departure hall, 0600–1030 in terminal 2 transit).
Media: 
Singapore's media environment has the shadow of Singaporean government cast over it. Censorship is common; Internet access is regulated; and private ownership of satellite dishes is not allowed (although cable TV is available). Singapore Press Holdings, with close links to the ruling party, has a virtual monopoly of the newspaper industry. The English-language dailies include The Business Times, The New Paper, The Straits Times and Today.
MediaCorp, owned by a state investment agency, operates TV and radio stations. It operates Channel 5 (English), Channel 8 (Mandarin), Channel NewsAsia (English), Channel U (Mandarin), Okto (English), Suria (Malay) and Vasantham (Indian languages, mainly Tamil). MediaCorp also operates more than a dozen stations in Singapore; a handful are operated by SPH UnionWorks and SAFRA Radio. The BBC World Serviceis available on 88.9 MHz FM.
Singapore Sites & Visits
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Baba House
Find out about the Peranakan community, which grew from the marriages of Chinese traders to local women. The lovingly-restored home (www.nus.edu.sg/cfa/museum/about.php), set up to look much as it did in the 1920s, can be visited only on a free tour – check the website for days and time.
Chinatown Heritage Centre
Learn about the history of the Chinese community in Singapore, at this fascinating museum (www.chinatownheritagecentre.sg) set within a converted shophouse. Highlights include recorded interviews with elderly residents, and reconstructions of the cramped conditions within which many people lived.
 
 
Marina Bay and the Gardens by the Bay
One of the newest land reclamation projects in Singapore, Marina Bay ( www.marina-bay.sg ( includes one of the city’s two huge casinos – the Sands – but also an array of bars, restaurants and events spaces. Just across the river are the Gardens by the Bay ) www.gardensbythebay.org.sg ), due to open at the end of June 2012 with a combination of open-air gardens, conservatories and an aerial walkway.
 
 
Orchard Road
Find world-class shopping in Singapore City's Orchard Road - the Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street of Singapore. It’s just as bustling, with vast luxury malls, shops ranging from megastores to vendors of souvenir tat, as well as cafés and restaurants.
 
 
Singapore Flyer
Enjoy panoramic views over Singapore island and beyond from the 165m (540ft) tall Singapore Flyer (www.singaporeflyer.com.sg), the world's highest Ferris wheel. Opened in March 2008 at Marina Bay, the enormous wheel offers a magnificent perspective on the bay as well as the city beyond.
Changi Museum and Chapel
Remember the dark days of Japanese wartime occupation at the Changi Museum and Chapel (www.changimuseum.com), a symbolic replica of similar chapels built by prisoners during WWII.
 
 
Club Street and Ann Siang Hill
Hang out with the locals in this trendy part of Chinatown, which forms a smart playground for advertising and banking types. Numerous bars and restaurants are housed in the narrow and historic streets.
 
 
Explore temples
Experience a world of religions at Buddhist and Hindu temples, mosques and Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, which are all likely to be encountered during a comparatively brief walk around central Singapore; such is its splendid diversity.
 
 
Fort Canning Park
Escape from the hot city streets and view what was once an ancient fort of the Malay kings, covering 2.8 hectares (7 acres): Fort Canning Park, on Fort Canning Rise. The colonial ruins of the British citadel can still be viewed, as can a 19th-century Christian cemetery.
 
 
Hire a canoe
Take to the water and canoe around the island - there are a number of operators hiring out canoes at Changi point, East Coast and Sentosa Island.
 
 
Istana
Give yourself a chance to bump into the President. Open to the public just five times yearly, the Istana (www.istana.gov.sg) is the impressive official residence of the Singaporean ruler. The white neoclassical building dates back to 1869, and the extensive grounds include a nine-hole golf course.
 
 
Johore Battery
See a replica of one of three ‘monster guns’ which once defended Singapore. Installed by the British in 1939, they fired shells with a diameter of 15 inches (38cm) which could reach a distance of 20 miles. Today you can visit the labyrinth of tunnels at the gun emplacement site, which were used to store ammunition. The original guns were destroyed by the British before Singapore fell to the Japanese army.
 
 
Jurong Bird Park
Come face to face with birdlife at the Jurong Bird Park (www.birdpark.com.sg) on Jurong Hill, home to South East Asia's largest collection of birds. There is also the world's largest walk-in aviary, a nocturnal house and several spectacular bird shows including one demonstrating falconry. The park is popular with families.
 
 
Lau Pa Sat
Tickle your tastebuds atLau Pa Sat (www.laupasat.biz), the largest surviving Victorian filigree cast-iron structure in South East Asia. Built in Scotland and shipped to Singapore in 1894 to act as a wet market, the structure has been restored and is now a popular food centre.
 
 
National Museum of Singapore
Relive the island's past at the refurbished National Museum of Singapore (www.nationalmuseum.sg), which offers much more than just static collections telling the island state's colourful history, it is also a focal point for numerous festivals and events.
 
 
National Orchid Garden
Explore the National Orchid Garden in Singapore's Botanic Gardens (www.sbg.org.sg), which has the largest collection of orchids in the world. The Botanic Gardens have over 52 hectares (128 acres) of landscaped parkland and primary jungle. There are free guided tours of the gardens on Saturdays (times vary).
 
 
Night Safari
Enter the fascinating world of nocturnal wildlife at the Night Safari (www.nightsafari.com.sg), one of Singapore’s most popular attractions and a little over an hour by bus from the city centre. Regular performances complement the park's extensive collections of animals; the world-class Singapore Zoo is next door and operated by the same company.
 
 
Parliament House
Relive colonial days near the Singapore River, and wander towards the imposing Parliament House (www.parliament.gov.sg), the oldest government building in the country - the core dates back to the 1820s. Proceedings are open to the public from 1300 when parliament is sitting, and tours are also offered.
 
 
Raffles Hotel
Prop up the bar at the Raffles Hotel (www.raffles.com/singapore/), one of the most famous hotels in the world. A Singapore Sling (a head-spinningly good, if expensive, cocktail) in the Long Bar is almost de rigueur, although it’s more pleasant to take a table in the shade outside. A dress code applies indoors, so avoid wearing shorts and sandals.
 
 
Sentosa Island
Take the short trip across to Sentosa Island (www.sentosa.com.sg), with its many and varied attractions ranging from the Universal Studios theme park to an aquarium, a cable car ride, the Sky Tower, nature trails and plenty of bars and restaurants. It’s a great family day out, but be warned that the various entry fees can add up to an expensive day out.
 
 
Singapore Flyer
Enjoy panoramic views over Singapore island and beyond from the 165m (540ft) tall Singapore Flyer (www.singaporeflyer.com.sg), the world's highest Ferris wheel attraction, opened in March 2008 at Marina Bay. This enormous Ferris wheel offers panoramic views across the Marina Bay, downtown skyscrapers and the city beyond.
Singapore River
Take a trip along Singapore River aboard a bumboat. These were once used to ferry goods to and from larger ships moored in the harbour, and nowadays offer an excellent way to see the contrasting historical and modern architectural styles of the city. Departure points include Boat Quay, Raffles Landing and Boat Quay.
World-class shopping
Go shopping in Singapore City's Orchard Road - the 'Fifth Avenue' or 'Oxford Street' of Singapore, and just as bustling, with its vast luxury malls, shops ranging from megastores to vendors of souvenir tat, as well as cafés and restaurants.
Singapore Hotels
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Hotels: 

There is a wide variety of accommodation, ranging from budget to modern, ultra high-class hotels; note though that ‘budget’ in Singaporeterms is significantly more expensive than in many other countries in the region. At the top end the hotels have extensive facilities, including swimming pools, health clubs, several restaurants, full business services and shopping arcades.

It is advisable to make advance reservations particularly at peak times, notably during the Formula One when prices increase dramatically but rooms can still be hard to find. All rooms are subject to 7% tax and 10% service charge; if a rate says ‘++’ then this has not yet been added. For further information on accommodation in Singapore, contact the Singapore Tourism Board.
If you arrive at Changi airport without a reservation, and don’t want to walk the streets looking for something, then it’s worth consulting the Singapore Hotel Association (www.stayinsingapore.com) desks which are in each terminal. They cover a wide range of prices and, unlike some similar services, they do not charge tourists for the service.
Grading: Some hotels are designated as being 'International Standard' with all modern conveniences such as swimming pools and air conditioning. However, there is no formal star system of grading. Expect a Singapore hotel advertising itself as five star to be considerably more luxurious than many of the European equivalents.
Bed and breakfast: 
The majority of the guest houses are situated in the area around Bencoolen Street and Beach Road in the Colonial District. Although considerably cheaper than the main hotels, guest houses tend to offer less value for money. Discounts are sometimes available when staying a few days.
Camping: 
The few campsites which exist in Singapore are inconveniently located, making camping a difficult option. Campsites are: Changi Beach Park, East Coast Park, Pasir Ris Park, Sembawang Park and West Coast Park; permits are required to camp on a week-night. In addition, it’s possible to camp without a permit on Noordin and Mamam Beaches on Pulau Ubin; they aren’t among South East Asia’s finest by any stretch of the imagination, but Mamam is the better of the two.
Other accommodation: 
Backpacker hostels: There are numerous hostel-style establishments offering communal dormitory accommodation to cash-strapped backpackers; the average price for a night's accommodation is S$20, but the dorms tend to be packed. The cheapest places are in Little India and Kampong Glam, although Chinatown also has some good options. There is one YMCA International hostel in Singapore, in a great spot on Orchard Road.
Apartments: Although they are not designed for short stays, Singapore also has plenty of serviced apartments suitable for medium- and long-term visitors. There are few bargains to be found, but the best places to start looking are on expat websites and in the Straits Times newspaper.
Resorts: You’ll never get completely away from civilization in Singapore, but the islands do offer a little breathing space particularly during the week. There are several resorts, most of them on Sentosa but also on Pulau Ubin and St John’s Island. Generally, though, it would be better to go to one of Malaysia’s islands – Desaru is popular with Singaporeans as the easiest to get to, although Tioman is not so much further away. The Indonesian island of Bintan is another possibility.
 
 
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Malaysia

Malaysia is a mythical country boasting unspoilt nature, endless white sand beaches and rich cultures that blend together to create a vibrant mix of customs, festivals and gastronomic delights. Malaysia offers you the opportunity to explore a land of extreme contrasts, the excitement of Kuala Lumpur, the architecture and history of Penang, Langkawi's luxurious beaches and the endangered orang-utans of Borneo. A Malaysia holiday has something for everyone.

About Malaysia
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Doing business in Malaysia

The best time to conduct business is the dry season, but the dry months vary as you move around the country – see the climate section for details. During the monsoon months, flooding can cause delays even in central Kuala Lumpur.

Suits are the preferred attire for business meetings, but a shirt and trousers is acceptable for less formal occasions. Female businesspeople should dress modestly, in long sleeves and a skirt that finishes below the knees. Business visitors should remember that the Malay population is predominantly Muslim and religious customs should be respected. Avoid criticizing Malaysia in conversation – national identity is also taken very seriously.

Appointments should be made for meetings – punctuality is expected so call ahead if you are likely to be delayed. Personal relationships are important and it may take several meetings to secure a deal. Handshakes are a common greeting, and women may shake hands with other women but men should never shake hands with women. It is customary to exchange business cards, but always present your business card with both hands. If possible, have your cards printed in English and Chinese characters.

Gifts are rarely exchanged in a business situation, but you may bring a gift if you are invited to a family home. Avoid alcohol, pork or beef products and images of dogs or pigs for religious reasons. Confectionary or flowers are usually best, as Hindus, Muslims and Chinese Buddhists each have their own taboos. Never wrap gifts in white paper, as this is associated with death. It is not appropriate for a man to give a gift to a woman he does not know. Always give gifts with the right hand. When eating, always pass things with the right hand and do not let the serving spoon touch your plate.

When paying in a restaurant, hand over the money with your right hand. Never leave your chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice as this is similar to the offerings made for the dead.

Office hours:

Most private sector offices are open Monday to Friday 0900-1700 and Saturday 0900-1300, but many public sector offices operate a five-day week.

Government office hours: Mon-Fri, 0830-1630

Economy:

A fully-fledged 'tiger' economy, from the 1970s onwards Malaysia's GDP grew rapidly at around 10% annually. However, in 1997 the Asian financial crisis brought this process to a shuddering halt. Malaysia has recovered reasonably well since then, although the headlong pre-1997 expansion has been replaced by a more measured pace of growth of around 4 to 5.5% each year, reaching 6.3% in 2007. Inflation was around 3% in 2007.

Healthy foreign exchange reserves, low inflation and a small external debt are all strengths that make it unlikely that a financial crisis similar to 1997 will re-occur. The Ringgit/US Dollar peg was abolished in July 2005. This has not resulted in any major change to the exchange rate.

Malaysia is a member of the Pacific Rim organisation APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Forum), which is assuming an increasingly important role in the regional economy.

Malaysia has rocketed up the international conventions league table in the past couple of years. The primary venue is the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, a large and very modern facility in the heart of the KLCC district (website: www.klccconventioncentre.com), which opened in 2005. Many hotels around the country also offer event facilities. Further information can be obtained from Tourism Malaysia, Convention Promotion Division (see Contact Addresses).

GDP:

US$223.8 billion (2011).

Main exports:

Electrical equipment, petroleum, liquefied natural gas, wood products and palm oil.

Main imports:

Electronics, machinery, petroleum products, plastics and vehicles.

Keeping in Touch in Malaysia

Telephone:

International calls can be made from public telephones or at any office of Malaysia Telekom Berhad, the national phone company (www.tm.com.my). Public phones can be found in many areas, such as supermarkets, shopping centres and post offices, and most use coins or pre-paid cards, which can be purchased at petrol stations and convenience stores

Mobile phone:

Roaming agreements exist with many international mobile phone companies and network coverage is good in most areas of Peninsular Malaysia, and in larger cities in East Malaysia. Signals are less reliable in the highlands and vanish entirely in rural areas of Borneo. Malaysia has GSM 900/1800 and 3G mobile networks, and pre-paid SIM cards can be purchased locally for unlocked mobile phones. If your phone is locked to a network, cheap handsets are widely available.

Internet:

Internet cafés are found everywhere and most chain coffee shops and shopping centres offer Wi-Fi connections. Larger hotels offer in-room internet access and Wi-Fi access in the lobby.

Post:

There are post offices in the commercial centre of all towns.

Post office hours:

Mon-Sat 0800-1700.

Media:

The government strives hard to shield the Malaysian population from foreign influences that are deemed harmful, and to maintain the perception of national unity. There are strict laws on censorship, and most newspapers self-censor to avoid falling foul of the authorities. Private radio stations broadcast in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and English, but all are circumspect in their political coverage. The censorship laws extend to music and films, and many recordings from outside Malaysia are banned.

Press:

• English-language dailies include Business Times, The Edge, Malay Mail, Malaysiakini, New Straits Times and The Star.

• The major Malay-language newspapers are Utusan and Berita Harian.

• English-language newspapers available in Sarawak include the Borneo Post.

• English-language dailies in Sabah include the Borneo Mail, Daily Express and Sabah Times.

Television:

• Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) is state-run and operates TV1 and TV2 networks.

• TV3, ntv7, Astro and 8TV are all commercial networks.

Radio:

• Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) operates some 30 state-run radio stations across the country, plus an external service.

• Time Highway Radio is a private FM station in Kuala Lumpur.

• Era FM is another private FM station in Malaysia.

Malaysia Sites & Visits
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Batang Rejang

The mighty Batang Rejang river is the gateway to Borneo’s tribal heartland. Visitors who come here in May and early June can visit the longhouse homes of the Iban tribe, which shelter generations of the same family, recalling traditions that date back thousands of years. The best places to arrange a local guide are the jungle outposts of Kapit and Belaga.

Batu Caves

Just 13km north of Kuala Lumpur, the remarkable Batu Caves are a series of dramatic limestone caverns, dripping with stalactites, revered as a Hindu shrine. Every year in January or February, millions of devotees parade through the chambers and perform ritual acts of self-mortification for the spectacular Thaipusam festival.

Cameron Highlands

To escape the heat of the lowlands, the British colonials retreated to the hills north of Kuala Lumpur founding tea plantation and hill resorts in the cool Cameron Highlands. Today, this is Malaysia’s best known hill station, with trekking and tea-tasting as the main attractions.

Forest Research Institute of Malaysia

Just a short train ride from central Kuala Lumpur, this scientific research centre (www.frim.gov.my) offers peaceful walking trails, jungle swimming holes and a 200m long rainforest boardwalk, suspended high in the canopy. It’s a fine retreat from the hubbub of the city, and the Zoo Negara and Batu Caves are close by.

Gunung Mulu National Park

A former haunt of headhunting tribes, Gunung Mulu National Park (www.mulupark.com) is a World Heritage site, thanks to the most extensive cave system in the world. Five caves are open to the general public, and many more can be explored by caving expeditions. You can also trek along a former headhunters’ trail and climb to the razor-sharp limestone outcrop known as the Pinnacles.

Impressive mosques

Tour Malaysia's most impressive mosques including Kuala Kangsar, the Ubudiah Mosque, the State Mosque in Seremban, the Tranquerah Mosque, one of Malaysia's oldest, in Malacca, Kuching's Sarawak State Mosque, with its magnificent gilt domes and Labuan's futuristic An'nur Jamek Mosque.

Johor

In the southern state of Johor, be sure to watch the trance-inducing Kuda Kepang dances in Muar, accompanied by the euphony of ghazal music and devotional chanting.

Jungle trekking

Go jungle trekking in the Taman Negara National Park (www.tamannegara.org). There are many clearly marked trails including a canopy walkway. Expert guides should be hired from the Wildlife Department at the Taman Negara Resort at Kuala Tahan.

Kota Bharu

Bordering Thailand on the east coast of Malaysia, Kota Bharu is alive with the culture and customs of the Malay peninsula. The town is famous for its traditional kites and shadow puppets and eating at the Kota Bharu night market is one of Malaysia’s great feasts. Festivals abound, including the Kite Festival in June and Puja Umur (the Sultan's birthday) in March/April.

Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary

Don a pair of binoculars at the Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary in Ipoh, host to over 150 species of birds. Lucky visitors may see smooth otters, long-tailed macaque and ridge-back dolphins.

Kuala Lumpur

A fascinating colonial history and rich cultural diversity make Kuala Lumpur one of Asia’s most invigorating capitals. Highlights include the Islamic Arts Museum, the National Mosque, the atmospheric streets of Little India and Chinatown, the historic architecture around Independence Square and shopping in the city’s space-age malls.

Kuching

The capital of Sarawak is a bustling metropolis by the standards of the tribal villages inland, but a sleepy backwater compared to the cities of Peninsular Malaysia. Highlights include temples and mosques, quirky museums, colonial relics and animated markets.

Lake Chini's

In the interior of Pahang, visit Malaysia's answer to Loch Ness: Lake Chini's waters are said to contain mythological monsters that guard the entrance to a legendary sunken city.

Langkawi Island

Malaysia’s premier resort island, Langkawi boasts white sand beaches, fringing coral reefs, swaying palms and superior shopping, thanks to the island’s duty free status. Ferries and flights come here daily from the mainland and you can continue by boat to Satun in southern Thailand.

Malacca

The best place to relive Malaysia's colonial past is its oldest city, Malacca (www.tourism-melaka.com), the one-time capital of Malay sultans and Portuguese, Dutch and British seafarers. A couple of hours south of Kuala Lumpur on the west coast, Malacca is famous for its Portuguese and Dutch colonial architecture, and its fascinating hybrid cuisine, which fuses Indian, Chinese and Malay influences.

Malaysian longhouse

Stay in a Malaysian longhouse, which are common along the rivers in Sarawak and Sabah, and are really entire villages housed under one single roof, inhabited by native communities. Visitors should be accompanied by a local guide.

Mount Kinabulu

Climbing Southeast Asia's highest peak is one of the highlights of a trip to East Malaysia. Located in Kinabalu National Park, the soaring granite dome of Mount Kinabulu reaches 4,094m (13,432ft), and the summit offers epic views over the island. Most people start the trek before dawn to catch sunrise at the summit. No technical skills are required, but a guide and a climbing permit (which can be bought on location) are compulsory.

Mountain resorts

Take respite from Malaysia's humid cities and soak up the magnificent views from the mountain resorts of the Central and Cameron Highlands.

Orang-utan sanctuary

Offering the rare chance to see wild orang-utans in their natural habitat, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan, Borneo, exists to rehabilitate orangutans rescued from hunters and loggers. In fact, it has the world's largest population of these 'wild men of Borneo', numbering some 80 individuals.

Pedas Hot Springs

Bathe in the restorative waters of the Pedas Hot Springs, 30km (18 miles) south of Seremban. Visitors will find bathing enclosures, dining and recreational facilities.

Penang Bird Park

Horticulturalists and bird lovers ashould head for Penang Bird Park (www.penangbirdpark.com.my). This landscaped park in Seberang Jaya is home to over 400 bird species and specially designed aviaries are placed among manmade islands with beautiful waterfalls and ornamental gardens.

Penang's beaches

Relax on Penang's sun-kissed beaches (www.tourismpenang.gov.my), and explore historic colonial George Town, the island's capital. Penang is also famous for its food.

Perak Tong temple cave

Explore subterranean Malaysia, with a visit to the cave temples at Perak Tong, Sam Poh Tong and Kek Lok Tong. The Museum Cave has a display of statues and murals from Hindu mythology.

Perhentian Besar

Visit the twin islands of Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil (www.pulauperhentian.com.my). The country's most beautiful islands boast pristine white beaches, crystal clear waters and are still relatively unexploited. The islands are popular for scuba-diving and snorkelling with accessible reefs.

Petronas Twin Towers

Looming over downtown Kuala Lumpur like twin rocket ships, the iconic Petronas Towers were the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004. Soaring to 436m (1,453ft), the towers are linked by a glass walkway with a viewing deck on the 41st floor. At the base of the towers is the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the swish Suria KLCC mall.

Puja Umur

Attend one of Malaysia's annual festivals, magnificent spectacles bursting with colour. Puja Umur (the Sultan's birthday) is celebrated with a week-long festival, beginning with a parade in Kota Bharu. The Annual Sabah International Dragon Boat Festival is also popular.

Pulau Perhentian

The twin islands of Pulau Perhentian (www.pulauperhentian.com.my) are a vision of paradise, and a perfect antidote to the over-development of many resort islands in South East Asia. Life here moves at a slow, tropical pace and apart from basking on the sand or swinging beneath a palm tree, diving and snorkelling are the main diversions.

Rainforests

Traverse Malaysia's stunning rainforests and jungles. Templar Park, 22km (14 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, is a well-preserved tract of primary rainforest. Jungle paths, swimming lagoons and waterfalls lie within the park boundaries.

Scuba-dive

Malaysia is a famous scuba diving destination, with teeming reefs and sunken islands that attract plenty of megafauna, including schooling hammerheads and rare whale sharks. There are dive sites all over the country, but the finest lie around the islands of Sipadan and Layang Layang, offshore from Sabah in East Malaysia.

Snake Temple

For an unusual attraction, go to the Snake Temple in Penang, which swarms with poisonous snakes, their venomous threat countered by heavily drugging them with incense.

Taman Negara

Malaysia is covered in pristine jungles, but Taman Negara National Park (www.taman-negara.com) offers the chance to get deep into the rainforest without having to cut a path through the lianas. Marked trails and boardwalks snake between the trees, offering the chance to spot monkeys, snakes, deer and tapir. Expert guides can be hired from the Wildlife Department at Kuala Tahan.

Tasek Perdana Lake Gardens

Southwest of Kuala Lumpur’s bustling Chinatown, the Lake Gardens are one of the capital’s top attractions. Highlights of this calm green space include the KL Bird Park, with dozens of exotic species, and lush gardens devoted to orchids, hibiscus and butterflies. In the centre is the National Monument, marking the defeat of Communist forces in 1950.

Tugu Negara

Walk in the delightful parkland surrounding Tugu Negara, Malaysia's National Monument in Kuala Lumpur, which commemorates the ultimately successful struggle against the occupying Japanese during World War II and communist insurgents in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Unusual sports

Play one of Malaysia's traditional, unusual sports, including gasing, or top spinning (called Main Gasing), which uses tops fashioned from hardwood and delicately balanced with lead, Wau-kite flying and Sepak Takraw, a game like volleyball, played with a ball made of rattan strips.

Malaysia Hotels
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Hotels:

Hotels in Malaysia range from inexpensive roadhouses to five-star hotels with cutting edge amenities. Facilities vary from the very basic (just a box room with a bed) to the truly luxurious: flat-screen TVs, in-room business facilities, and even private spa pools. Malaysia also has a number of atmospheric heritage hotels in historic mansions and colonial villas.

Kuala Lumpur has no shortage of hotel beds, but in smaller towns and at popular resorts, it is wise to book in advance, particularly during school and public holidays. Note that prices at the coastal resorts peak during the dry season – for bargain rates, travel during the monsoon months. A new official grading system was introduced in 2007, in which hotels are awarded 1-5 stars or an orchid rating for more modest establishments.

Resorts: Malaysia boasts some of the finest beach resorts in Asia, with on-site spas and pools and restaurants spilling right onto the sand. Most offer activities, including scuba-diving and other watersports. There are also plenty of moderately-priced resorts catering to local and international tourists, as well as budget resorts in the main backpacker hangouts.

Camping:

There are camping facilities in most national parks and wild camping is possible on island beaches in many parts of the country. National park campsites usually provide tents, camp beds and mosquito nets, but you can often camp with your own equipment in remote areas with permission from the park authorities.

Other accommodation:

Youth Hostels: Malaysia is a member of the International Youth Hostel Federation (www.myha.org.my), and there are a number of inexpensive youth hostels dotted around the country, including in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, and Langkawi. Accommodation is in dormitories and most hostels offer meals on-site.

Homestay Accommodation: The Malaysian government has an official homestay programme, with accommodation in family homes in rural areas of the country. By far the most atmospheric experience is staying in a tribal longhouse in Borneo, but there are strict rules about where and when you can stay, and arrangements must be made with a local guide.

Backpacking hostel: Malaysia is a popular backpacker destination and backpacker hostels and rest houses are found all over the country. Most offer air conditioning, internet access and lockers for valuables, but rooms often have shared bathrooms and noise can be a problem.

 

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Thailand

Thailand holidays are truly unforgettable, with sun-soaked beaches contrasting against the bustle of Bangkok and some the friendliest locals you'll ever meet. Add to this delicious cuisine, holy temples and an ever-changing landscape from North to South, and you've got the perfect holiday in Thailand. Whether you head North for hidden villages and jungle trekking with elephants, or stay South for the idyllic beaches, our range of Thailand holidays will meet your every need.

About Thailand
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Doing business in Thailand

Most people in senior management speak English apart from in very small companies, or those situated outside the industrial belt of Bangkok, where English is not widely spoken. Most businesses of substantial size prefer visitors to make appointments. Punctuality is advisable (although the visitor is quite often likely to be kept waiting after arrival). In Bangkok, traffic must be taken into consideration when going to appointments.

Deference is always shown to the most senior person in any business situation. The normal business greeting is the handshake, but it is conventional to greet those of the opposite sex with awai, a slight bow with the hands held together at chest height. Business cards should be exchanged at the end of any meeting. Be sure to pass objects with your right hand.

Thai hosts are quite likely to give small gifts to visitors, so it is a good idea to reciprocate with a typical national gift of one's own. Visitors should never get angry or raise their voice if things are not going according to plan, as this will mean a loss of face on both sides. Much more progress will be made by remaining calm.

Meetings often take place over lunch and these are generally held in a Thai restaurant. Thai businesspeople are quite formal in their dress but, because of the extreme heat, it is quite acceptable and practical to dispense with the wearing of a suit jacket.

Office hours:

Office hours are usually Monday to Friday 0830-1630. There is a large expat community in Bangkok, as well as a big after-work drinking scene.

Economy:

The Thai economy expanded very rapidly during the 1980s and early 1990s, with the average annual GDP growth between 1990 and 1996 being 8.5%. However, things slowed dramatically in the summer of 1997 when the Asian currency crisis struck, causing the economy to drop by 11%. After a strong initial recovery, the Thai economy suffered again in 2001/2 following 9/11, and in 2003 suffered because of the reaction to SARS, the war in Iraq and fears of terrorism.

Things took an upward turn in 2004 due to domestic demand and strong exports, giving the economy resilience to the outbreak of avian influenza and soaring oil prices. However, following the tsunami in December 2004, sharp rises in world oil prices and domestic political turmoil following the military coup in September 2006, growth was affected. In 2007 the inflation rate was 2.2% with unemployment down to 1.4%. Inflation rates rose dramatically in 2008 before falling even more dramatically in 2009. Since then rates have stabilised between 2.8% and 4.2% with the actual figure of 4.08% in July 2011. Unemployment rates have remained consistent since 2007 with the actual 2010 figure at 1.39%.

Following the financial collapse in 1997 the government launched the Amazing Thailand campaign which increased tourist arrivals dramatically, all keen to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate. Arrival numbers peaked in 2002 but were down by 10% in 2003 with the occurrence of SARS. However, visitor numbers have improved steadily and were more than 14 million in 2007 - a 4.7% increase on 2006. Numbers have steadily increased since then, rising to 15.8 million visitors in 2010.

The Thailand Incentive and Convention Association was established to aid the growth of Thailand as a destination for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions. Members include tour operators, hotels, airlines, advertising agencies, lawyers, convention centres, convention organisers and local attractions. Bangkok has the two largest venues for conferences and exhibitions - the Bangkok Convention Centre and the Impact Muang Thong Thani Exhibition and Convention Centre. There are also many other venues (including hotels) in Bangkok and elsewhere.

GDP:

US$319 billion (2010).

Main exports:

Automatic data processing machines and parts, automobiles and parts, precious stones and jewellery, refined fuels, rubber, electronic integrated circuits, polymers of ethylene and propylene, rice, iron and steel and their products, rubber products, chemical products.

Main imports:

Crude oil, machinery and parts, electrical machinery and parts, chemicals, iron and steel and their products, electrical circuits panels, computers and parts, other metal ores and metal waste scrap, ships and boats and floating structure, jewellery including silver and gold.

Keeping in Touch in Thailand

Telephone:

A popular way to call overseas is through a service called Home Country Direct, which is available at various post offices and CAT centres in towns and cities. It offers an easy connection to international operators in many different countries. Some accommodation places will have a mobile or landline that customers can use for a per-minute fee for overseas calls. Public phones are not recommended as they are often on noisy main streets.

Mobile phone:

Roaming agreements exist with many international mobile phone companies. There is good coverage, especially around main towns.

Internet:

There are plenty of internet cafés, some even found in remote areas visited by tourists.

Post:

Airmail to Europe takes up to one week.

Post office hours:

The General Post Office in Bangkok (on Charoen Krung Road) is open Mon-Fri 0800-2000, Sat-Sun and holidays 0800-1300. Post offices up-country are open Mon-Fri 0800-1630, Sat 0900-1200.

Media:

While the government and military control nearly all the national terrestrial TV networks and operate many of Thailand's radio networks, the print media is largely privately run.

Press:

Many daily and weekly Thai newspapers are available, including Thairath. The English-language dailies are Bangkok Post and The Nation.

Television:

Thai TV stations are variously controlled by the government and the army. They include TV3, TV5,BBTV Channel 7 and Television of Thailand. Even Independent Television is part-owned by the prime minister's office.

Radio:

Radio Thailand and MCOT are operated by government agencies, while Army Radio is controlled by the Royal Thai Army. There are more than 60 stations in and around the capital.

Thailand Sites & Visits
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Northern Insight Meditation Centre

Thailand is a serene and thought-provoking place to do some meditation. This centre offers an intensive month-long course and there are strict rules to be observed. The beautiful leafy setting in Chiang Mai is ideal, but there are similar places all over the country; make enquiries at local temples.

Chiang Dao

Thailand's highest limestone mountain can be found here amidst a jungle oasis with an excellent selection of local accommodation. A mystical warren of caves extending some 14km (8.7 miles) can be explored, and riding a bicycle is a relaxing way to explore the area around Chiang Dao.

Chiang Mai - Old City

The temple-studded old city of Chiang Mai with its leafy residential sois, towering city gates and crumbling walls is a highlight of the north. Exploration is best by bicycle with traffic surprisingly subdued in the city walls and there are plenty of places to stop for refreshment when escaping the heat of the day.

Doi Inthanon

Escape to the cooling heights of Thailand's highest peak, where jungle walks, bird watching and simply shaking the heat of the simmering plains from your back awaits. There are good roads in the park making it easy to get around and waterfalls to splash about in.

Elephant Nature Park

Visiting an elephant sanctuary can be a wonderful experience especially if you stick to those, like this nature park, which genuinely care for the animals instead of just making them do ridiculous antics. Visitors can help wash and care for the elephants here and no riding is allowed.

JEATH War Museum

The moving JEATH War Museum (JEATH representing the first letter of Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland, the countries who lost soldiers in the region) is located in the provincial capital, Kanchanaburi and features photographs and various other memorabilia from World War II.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

One of northern Thailand's most sacred temples, Wat Suthep is perched high in the mountains overlooking the steamy metropolis of Chiang Mai below. As well as offering astounding views the temple, established in the 14th century, has a wonderful collection on Lanna Art and architecture.

Bangkok's Siam Ocean World

Dive with the sharks in the aquarium at Bangkok's Siam Ocean World (www.siamoceanworld.co.th), and live to tell the tale. There's a daily feeding of sharks and penguins and the deep reef zone is a fascinating glimpse into a magical underwater world.

Bridge Over The River Kwai

Internationally famous due to the 1957 film The Bridge Over the River Kwai, it was constructed as part of the Japanese Siam-Burma 'Death' Railway during World War II. An estimated 16,000 Allied prisoners of war died, forced to endure back-breaking work under terrible conditions to complete the railway, and large numbers of troops perished during bombing raids on the iron structure by the Allies in 1945.

Calypso Cabaret, Bangkok

Be entertained by the infamous 'lady boys' or katoeys of Bangkok at the outrageous Calypso Cabaret at the Asia Hotel (www.calypsocabaret.com). The costuming and antics of the various participants are equally outrageous and this is one of the capital's great experiences.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Located 80km (50 miles) southwest of Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a daily riot of colour and noise. Farmers and smallholders from the surrounding hills turn up each morning to sell and exchange fruit and vegetables from their heavily-laden barges, as they sail up and down the canals amongst the orchards and vineyards. Trading starts early, at around 0600 and lasts only until 1100, with the main clients being other farmers and the residents of the stilt-houses that line the canals. Visitors can also take boat trips to see the way of life in the many villages up river.

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Marvel at Bangkok's glittering Grand Palace (www.palaces.thai.net/gp) and Wat Phra Kaeo - a temple complex housing the Emerald Buddha. Upriver are the Royal Barges (www.thailandmuseum.com), ornate barges used for special processions on the Chao Phraya river.

Kite fighters

Admire the skills of the kite fighters. Opposing teams fly male Chula and female Pakpao kites in a surrogate battle of the sexes.

Learn traditional massage

Learn traditional massage and the healing properties of herbal medicine at ancient Wat Pho (www.watpho.com), ‘Temple of the Reclining Buddha’. Tourists must be in polite dress, shorts are not permitted.

Oriental Hotel, Bangkok

Have afternoon tea at the Oriental Hotel (www.mandarinoriental.com) in Bangkok, one of the most famous hotels in the world. Once the haunt of the likes of Somerset Maughan and Joseph Conrad, it is now frequented by royalty and celebrities.

Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay is one of the world's great scenic wonders. It covers an area of 400 sq km (154 sq miles) and consists of verdant limestone islands, some of which reach 300m (984ft) high. The area is famous for its caves and aquatic grottoes. Apart from the occasional village, few of the islands are densely populated.

The most famous of the islands in the bay are Ko Ping Kan (more commonly known as James Bond Island) and Koh Pannyi. The former featured in the James Bond movie 'The Man with the Golden Gun', whilst the latter, which literally means 'Sea Gypsy Island', is a village built out over the water on stilts, guarded by a giant rock monolith. The area suffered badly during the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, but has recovered well.

Siam Nirami, Bangkok

Be wowed by the spectacular cultural production of a Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Thailand with hundreds of performers and special effects at Siam Niramit in central Bangkok (www.siamniramit.com).

Siam Winery

Join a wine-tasting tour at the Siam Winery near Bangkok (www.siamwinery.com).

Take a meditation class

Cast off all cares through traditional meditation. Thailand has dozens of temples and meditation centres specialising in vipassana (insight) meditation. Attend a class for just one day or a retreat lasting several weeks.  Get to know northern Thailand better, particularly the remote provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son by trekking, riding an elephant or rafting through this spectacular region.

Thai cooking

Try Thai cooking at one of many cookery schools. Learn how to blend the many herbs and spices that provide the unique flavours of Thai food.

Thai kick-boxing match

Take in a muay thai (Thai kick-boxing) match; this traditional sport can be seen every day of the year at the major stadiums in both Bangkok and the provinces. Thai boxing matches are preceded by elaborate ceremonies and accompanied by lively music.

Thailand Hotels
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Hotels:

Hotels in Thailand cover every range, from high-end luxury boutiques to fantastic options for the budget traveller. There is cheap accommodation throughout Bangkok but Banglamphu is the main area for budget accommodation. Hotels outside the capital and developed tourist areas are less lavish but are extremely economical and comfortable. Visitors can book hotels on arrival at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and also at some of the provincial airports.

Bangkok and many tourist destinations around Thailand have some of Asia's finest hotels, with thousands of rooms meeting international standards. Many hotels belong to the large international chains. All luxury hotels have swimming pools, 24-hour room service, air conditioning and a high staff-to-guest ratio. There are many online hotel booking sites which are worth checking out, but also check the hotel's own website for special internet offers.

Grading: There is no official system of grading hotels, but prices generally give a good indication of standards.

Bed and breakfast:

Guest houses with shared bathrooms and no air conditioning are cheap and popular with tourists, as are bungalows, which often have cafés and English-speaking staff on site. Beach bungalows and huts are particularly popular with backpackers and can be found on many of the beaches and islands around Thailand.

Camping:

In general, visitors will find that camping in Thailand is not popular, as other accommodation is available at such reasonable prices. Most of Thailand's campsites are in the area of the national parks where tents can be rented; there are also some private tourist resorts which provide camping facilities. Camping is allowed on nearly all of the islands and beaches.

Other accommodation:

YMCA and YWCA hostels are located in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and small, cheap hotels are available all over the country. Holiday villas and flats can be rented, especially for long-term visitors. For details, look for advertisements in the English-language newspapers or online before travelling.

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Eastern & Southern Africa Holidays

In such a vast region, Eastern and Southern Africa holidays have almost limitless options. The diverse landscapes, incredible wildlife and unique cultures of these intriguing countries give you such an array of holiday experiences that you'll be spoilt for choice. Whether you want city, beach or safari, we can create the perfect Africa holiday for you.

South Africa

South Africa holidays offer all the best of Africa, with idyllic beaches and wild safaris updated with cosmopolitan cities. This is a long haul holiday without the jet lag, leaving you with more energy to explore the exhausting sights on offer on a South Africa holiday. Known as the 'rainbow nation' for its cultural mix, South Africa holiday packages also offer something for everyone - with rugby and water-sports galore, endless plains where the 'Big Five' roam, and mind-blowing sunsets over the lush vineyards, producing scores of delicious wines.

About South Africa
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Doing business in South Africa

Business practices in South Africa are very westernised. The exchanging of business cards is important and a firm handshake between both men and women is common. Punctuality is still highly prized and it is advisable to address hosts as 'Mr' or 'Ms' until requested to use first names, which usually happens soon after formal greetings are dispensed with. The triple handshake is common among black businesspeople, although the standard handshake usually takes precedence with international visitors.

Cape Town is relatively informal and more laid back than Johannesburg. Its businesses tend to be creative rather than industrial, so suit and ties are not always in evidence. Pushiness and a demand for instant decisions are not appreciated. People like to mull things over and will freeze out anyone too in-their-face. Capetonians joke it's dubbed the Mother City because everything takes nine months to happen. Have patience, bru (brother).

In Durban, most industries do expect a suit and tie at business meetings. The more modern or artistic industries, such as IT and the media, tend to display a more informal attitude to dress.

In cosmopolitan Johannesburg, all of South Africa's 11 official languages are spoken, but English is the most widely used language in government and commerce. Businessmen and women in Johannesburg tend to wear suits, although ethnic outfits are increasingly evident.

Gifts are not expected in either business or social situations. Business cards are often exchanged where businesspeople meet informally, such as in hotel lobbies, airport lounges and at product launches. Most initial business-related social contact is along the lines of 'let's do lunch'; dinner and breakfast appointments are far less common.

Office hours:

There is no single office opening time and it varies from business to business, generally from either 0800 or 0900 to 1630 or 1700, Mon-Fri.

Economy:

The South African economy dominates Sub-Saharan Africa. Agriculture is strong enough for virtual self-sufficiency in foodstuffs: livestock is reared extensively, and large amounts of sugar, maize and cereals are produced. Wine and fruit are exported in large quantities.

The industrial sector has traditionally been based on mining as one of the world's largest exporters of gold, platinum and diamonds. It also has considerable deposits of coal, chromium, manganese and vanadium. The telecommunication networks have seen major improvements in recent years as undersea cables have brought international bandwidth in larger amounts at cheaper prices.

After decades of double-digit inflation, the period from 2004 to the onset of the global financial downturn was marked by healthy growth and inflation of under 5%. In the run up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup a construction boom benefitted the country and inflation was capped to 5.7% in 2010. The inflation rate was recorded at 5.5% in September 2012.

Unemployment remains a major problem, with an official figure of 25.5% in the third quarter 2012, but in many rural and urban townships it is estimated to be much higher. Other long-term problems include poverty, a high level of HIV/AIDS infection and an inadequate infrastructure for public transport and electricity.

The country still has a legacy two-tiered economy; one rivalling developed countries and a more basic informal sector, leading to an uneven distribution of wealth and income. South Africa is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU).

South Africa has three major trade show, conference and exhibition venues: Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, Cape Town International Convention Centre, and the International Convention Centre in Durban. Smaller venues exist in the hotels and universities of other major towns. South African Tourism provides information for conference organisers and delegates.

GDP:

US$408 billion (2011).

Main exports:

Mineral raw materials (coal, diamonds, platinum), agricultural produce, chemical products and machinery.

Telephone:

To call home, the cheapest way is to use Skype or an international calling card like the WorldCall card from the national operator, Telkom. That lets you call any destination from a Telkom line, including those in hotels, at standard Telkom rates. Area codes are used even for local calls.

Mobile phone:

Roaming agreements exist with international mobile phone companies. Coverage extends to most of the country except the very remote areas. GPRS for data coverage is also widespread. Airport kiosks can sell you a phone or local SIM card if you show some ID.

Internet:

Internet cafes are common in towns throughout the country and wireless is available at airports and in upmarket hotels. Most hotels charge for connectivity and it’s far cheaper to find the nearest internet café.

Post:

Airmail takes a minimum of two days to Europe, three days to USA and four days to Australia.

Post office hours:

Generally Mon-Fri 0830-1530; Sat 0800-1100; longer in airports and shopping malls. The smaller post offices close for lunch 1300-1400.

Media:

South Africa's many broadcasters and publications reflect the diversity of the population. Freedom of the press is constitutionally protected and many newspapers have begun to flex their muscles with stronger and more critical political analysis. That includes fighting to retain their freedom, as a new bill that threatens to curb that right has been tabled. The main English language newspapers are The Daily Sun, The Star, Sowetan, The Citizen and weekly Mail & Guardian. International papers are widely available in hotels and airports, and a select few in newsagents and bookshops. One of the most well-respected and analytical news websites is The Daily Maverick (www.thedailymaverick.co.za).

The state-run SABC and commercial E.tv networks broadcast nationally, and many viewers subscribe to pay-TV operated by Multichoice. The proliferation of commercial and community radio stations includes Highveld, Jacaranda, 702 Talk Radio and Classic FM.

South Africa Sites & Visits
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Cape Point

If you’ve come to South Africa you have to go all the way. Stand on the continent’s tip at Cape Point, a World Heritage Site with buck, baboons and zebra, ending in sheer cliffs towering 200m (660ft) above the sea. The Flying Dutchman funicular takes you up to the old lighthouse to enjoy panoramic views, and the restaurant has splendid ocean views.

Drive the Garden Route

The Garden Route (www.gardenroute.co.za) winds along the scenic south east coast, stretching from Mossel Bay to the Storms River. It passes numerous lakes and lagoons and pretty towns including Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg Bay and George.

Robben Island

A short ferry trip from Cape Town takes you to Robben Island (www.robben-island.org.za), where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists were jailed. Tours are conducted by former political prisoners themselves for an accurate account of a life in chains.

Addo Elephant National Park

Elephants are easy to spot in this park in the Eastern Cape (www.addoelephant.com), which is also home to black rhino, buffalo and antelope. The elephant section was proclaimed in 1931, when only 11 elephants remained; today there are more than 450. Enjoy guided game drives, and horse, hiking and 4x4 trails.

Anglo-Boer War Battlefields

Wars between the Afrikaans, British and Zulus erupted in bloody skirmishes in KwaZulu-Natal, a beautiful area of rolling grassland and rocky hills dotted with graves and monuments. The Anglo-Boer War began in 1899 in a fight over gold- and diamond-rich land. Knowledgeable guides lead you around the battlefields, telling tales that send shivers down your spine. Talana Museum near Dundee was the site of the first of the Anglo-Boer battle and is a heritage park with a war cemetery.

Apartheid Museum

Johannesburg's excellent and moving Apartheid Museum (www.apartheidmuseum.org) tells the story of racially segregated South Africa. Your entrance ticket comes in "white" and "non-white" versions, determining which entrance you're allowed to use. The story is told through photographs, artefacts, newspaper clippings and film footage.

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

Breathtaking Blyde River Canyon is the third largest gorge in the world, best seen from the viewing point called God’s Window. Other attractions include numerous waterfalls, the astonishing Bourke's Luck Potholes ground out by the gushing rapids and Pilgrim's Rest, a former gold-mining town dating from 1873. At the heart of the nature reserve is Blyde Dam, home to hippos and crocodiles.

Boulders Beach penguins

A large colony of endearing African penguins make their home on a protected part of Boulders Beach in Simonstown, near Cape Town, and a small entrance fee lets you get up close and personal. Do take care when driving there - sometimes they waddle across the roads.

Climb Table Mountain

Cape Town's famous flat-topped mountain is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. It looks brilliant from down below and gives equally brilliant views from the top. Hiking up is a popular option but it isn’t a walk in the park, so the lazy but equally rewarding way is to take the cable car (www.tablemountain.net).

Explore the Winelands

More than a dozen wine routes tempt you with wine tastings and excellent cuisine in the wine estate restaurants. The views are splendid, with rolling hills and gorgeous old Cape-Dutch mansions. Tourists love the prices too when they stock up on supplies. Organised trips from Cape Town let you avoid drunk-driving.

Game drives

South Africa’s greatest attraction is the big five in their natural environment: elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard. They're elusive beasts but you can almost guarantee great sightings on a game drive with a ranger. Kruger National Park (www.krugerpark.co.za) is extremely popular. Tracking white or black rhino on foot is also a thrilling experience.

Hike the Drakensburg mountain trails

South Africa has excellent hiking, with trails in the Drakensberg (www.drakensberg.kzn.org.za) passing ancient yellowwood trees and Bushmen cave art. A tougher option is The Otter Trail, a 5-day coastal hike through Tsitsikamma National Park. Several companies offer porters.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

This beautiful landscaped garden (www.sanbi.org), created by Cecil Rhodes in 1895 at the foot of Table Mountain, is dedicated to indigenous plants and flowers, particularly those unique to the Cape. Sunday evening concerts in the summer are the perfect venue for sundowners.

Play a round of Golf

Got golf clubs? Got a lot of money? South African is brilliant for golfing and swanky Fancourt Estate (www.fancourt.co.za) on the south coast at George has three courses designed by Gary Player, South Africa’s most famous golfer, including The Links, described as his greatest design feat. There are hundreds of golf resorts and courses across the country, many in scenic locations.

Scuba diving at Sodwana Bay

The KwaZulu-Natal coast offers superb conditions for underwater exploration. Sodwana Bay near Durban is a popular base for reef dives among turtles and tropical fish, while Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks further south are superb for sharks and wrecks. Courses are available if you’re a newbie.

Shark-diving

Adrenalin junkies can have a close encounter of the scary kind with shark diving operators. Don your breathing equipment and get lowered in steel cage into great white shark territory. Dyer Island in the Western Cape is their favourite hunting ground with a plethora of penguins, seals and game fish.

Spring flowers in Namaqualand

The arid Namaqualand region (www.namaqualand.com) explodes with colour between mid-August and mid-September, when wild flowers blanket the landscape. The West Coast National Park is one of the best places to see the phenomenon.

Surfing

You can take to the waves at Jeffrey's Bay near Port Elizabeth, which is home to Supertubes - considered by some surfers as the world's best right hand point break. (www.surfingsouthafrica.co.za).

Township tours

Join a guided tour of a township, the areas where blacks were forcibly relocated to during apartheid, and experience the vibrancy and sense of community. Tours run from most major cities and a trip usually includes a traditional meal and drinks in a ‘shebeen’, the popular bars or restaurants. Soweto in Johannesburg and Cape Town's Cape Flats are most popular.

Whale-watching in Hermanus

One of the world’s greatest whale watching spots is Hermanus, which hosts an annual Whale Festival (www.whalefestival.co.za). Southern Right Whales migrate along the south coast from around June until September and at Hermanus they come so close to the shore you can view them from your hotel window.

South Africa Hotels
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Hotels: 

The top-end hotels in South Africa are world class with excellent restaurants, well-equipped fitness rooms, spas and swimming pools. Stylish boutique hotels have become very prevalent in the last two years, and almost every town increased the quality and quantity of its accommodation options in the run up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Grading: The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa runs a voluntary accommodation grading system. Establishments that join the scheme are awarded 1 to 5 stars. The type of accommodation is taken into account, so there are 5-star bed and breakfasts, and caravan parks, as well as 5-star hotels.

Bed and breakfast: 

Bed and breakfast accommodation is found everywhere, from rural villages to urban townships. Many have a bit more charm than standard bed and breakfasts. Some are housed in historical buildings decorated with antiques, while others may be on a working farm where guests can get involved.The hosts may provide dinner on request. Advance bookings in the high season of October to April are becoming essential, especially in the Western Cape. Local tourist offices are the best source of information.

Camping: 

Almost every town has a municipal caravan and camping site (camping is not allowed outside of them) and they are found along all the tourist routes in South Africa. The standard is usually high with clean ablution and sometimes kitchen blocks and secure fencing. Many have additional simple self-catering chalets to rent, and a swimming pool. The national parks have campsites too, often with ready-erected permanent tents on wooden platforms. A number of car hire companies can arrange camper van hire, with a range of fully equipped vehicles.

Other accommodation: 

Lodges: Some truly wonderful five-star safari lodges represent the peak of South Africa’s accommodation options. They’re based in the private game reserves and the package includes early morning and sun-downer game drives with knowledgeable rangers, exquisite meals and all drinks including alcohol.

Budget: Accommodation in the national parks is economical if you stay in one of the many camp sites where you hire a permanent tent on a platform – essential when there are few fences to keep the predators at bay. There are communal ablution blocks, a swimming pool, fairly cheap restaurants and reasonably well-stocked shops if you want to self-cater.

Unique Accommodation: You’ll struggle to find a corner to put your suitcase in if you stay in arondavel (thatched huts) but it’s worth it for the novelty value. These traditional round Zulu huts have brick and clay walls and an archway you duck through to get in.

Hostels: Located all over the country, hostels are generally cheap, clean and well run. Some offer beds in dorms with shared showers, others have private en suite rooms. Self-catering facilities are provided. Some rent out mountain bikes or surfboards. Most are listed in backpackers guide Coast to Coast (www.coastingafrica.com). The Baz Bus coach service offers a door-to-door service for hostellers.

Holiday flats and chalets are available in all the main tourist areas. Some are located in resorts with spas and swimming pools, and some upmarket hotels also offer cheaper self-catering units.

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Kenya

Go on safari on Kenya holidays, and cross the African plains in search of 'the Big Five' - the prized buffalo, leopard, the elephant, lion and rhino that dwell in the national parks and reserves. A Kenya holiday is sure to captivate animal lovers, but sun-seekers can stretch out on the soft golden sands bordering the desert landscape, framed by Mount Kilimanjaro. Answer the call of the wild with our Kenya holiday packages and you'll also discover the deep heart of Africa

About Kenya
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Doing business in Kenya

Western business practices prevail, and a formal handshake (using the right hand) is the standard greeting between men. It is customary to lower your gaze when greeting someone who is older or of a higher professional rank. Men should not shake hands with a woman unless she extends her hand first. Address Kenyans by their surname and title unless you are invited to use their first name.

Suits are the expected attire for business meetings, though a shirt and tie will suffice in less formal situations. Kenyans are quite conservative and advance appointments are required for meetings and call ahead if you are likely to be late.

Most businesspeople speak English and it is customary to exchange business cards. Small talk is normal and it may take some time to get to the point of a meeting. The eldest person in the room is often designated as chairperson. When negotiating a price, some haggling is expected, but angry exchanges are to be avoided. If exchanging gifts, do not choose items with a high value as this may be seen as an attempted bribe.

Businesses and government offices in Kenya are open Monday to Friday from 0900-1300 and 1400-1700. Some offices also are open on Saturdays from 0815 to noon.

Office hours:

Mon-Fri 0900-1300 and 1400-1700.

Economy:

The Kenyan economy is largely agricultural and its biggest exports in this sector are tea, coffee and horticultural products like flowers and vegetables destined for European supermarkets. Kenya is also one of the few African countries with a significant dairy industry. The manufacturing sector produces cement, paper, textiles, rubber and metal products amongst other goods. The post-election crisis in early 2008, coupled with effects of the global recession, reduced Kenya’s GDP growth to 1.7%, but since then, the economy has improved significantly and by the end of 2010, GDP growth was put at 4%. Unemployment is difficult to measure in Kenya, but was estimated as 40% in 2008. In the service sector, tourism is the largest industry and principal source of foreign exchange, which earns the country about US$7.4 million per year. Visitor numbers in 2010 reached an all time high of just over 1 million. Main urban centres, such as Mombasa and Nairobi, and most international hotels have conference facilities. Nairobi's Kenyatta International Conference Centre is the country's largest facility.

GDP:

US$29.4 billion (2010).

Main exports:

Tea, horticultural products, coffee, petroleum products and fish.

Main imports:

Machinery and transportation equipment, petroleum products, motor vehicles, iron and steel.

Telephone:

International calls can usually be made directly, but in some rural areas, international calls are diverted through the operator. Public telephones, operated by Telkom Kenya (www.telkom.co.ke), work with coins or with phone cards (which may be purchased from post offices or from international call services in major towns); coin-operated phone booths are painted red, card-operated booths are painted blue. Major hotels also offer an international phone service, but they usually charge up to 100% more. In larger towns, private telecommunication centres offer international services. For local calls, it is useful to have plenty of small change available.

Mobile phone:

Roaming agreements exist with international mobile phone companies. The main network providers are Airtel (www.africa.airtel.com), and Safaricom (www.safaricom.co.ke). Local SIM cards and top-up cards are available to buy everywhere. Wide areas around Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa, as well as the whole coast region, the popular safari parks and the road between Nairobi and Mombasa, have good network coverage. Outside of these areas coverage is limited.

Internet:

There are internet cafes in the cities. Even smaller towns have at least one venue, usually on the main street. Almost all post offices now offer at least one terminal for public access. Tourists can also access the internet in many hotels; the more upmarket and business orientated ones have in-room Wi-Fi. Accommodation in parks and reserves generally don’t have internet.

Post:

Post is efficient and most towns have post offices run by the Postal Corporation of Kenya (www.posta.co.ke). Post boxes are red. Stamps can usually be bought at post offices, stationers, souvenir shops and hotels. Airmail to Western Europe takes around five days, and to the US, 10 days. The service is generally reliable. If you are sending parcels out of the country the contents must be inspected and the parcel wrapped (in brown paper and string) at the post office.

Post office hours:

Mon-Fri 0800-1700; Sat 0800-1200. Small branches close for an hour at lunchtime.

Media:

Kenya enjoys a more diverse media scene than many other African countries. The print media is dominated by two publishing houses, the Nation Media Group and the Standard Group, which also have broadcasting interests. The main dailies (all published in English) include Daily Nation, The East African Standard and Kenya Times. Newspapers from Tanzania and Uganda are also widely circulated in Kenya.

State-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC; www.kbc.co.ke) has TV channels in English and Swahili; Kenya Television Network (www.ktnkenya.tv) is operated by the Standard Group; NTV (www.ntv.co.ke) is a Nairobi-based station operated by the Nation Media Group. Other private channels include Nairobi-based station Citizen TV and Family TV. DSTV (www.dstvafrica.com) is multi-channel international satellite TV found in most hotels.

In Nairobi and Mombasa there is a comprehensive choice of international newspapers and magazines sold in bookshops, airports, hotels and at pavement kiosks. Day-old copies of UK and other European newspapers are available.