Visit Istanbul This Summer For A Rand-Friendly Getaway

Want to escape the scorching SA sun (and the tourists!) and see somewhere new this summer? There’s always the tried and tested options; Thailand, Mauritius or the UK – but the Turkish city of Istanbul is something a little different. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that if you’re searching for a rand-friendly destination over South Africa’s summer, you absolutely have to visit Istanbul.

Turkish winter isn’t like German winter, or Russian winter. At least, not in Istanbul. You won’t find your boots slowly freezing to the pavement, nor will you realise when it’s already too late that you actually don’t want that cup of hot chocolate because that would mean taking your hands out of your pockets. In fact, Istanbul is positively balmy compared to much of Europe. In November for example, the average daily temperatures range between 10 and 15. Nice and fresh, but not so fresh that it’ll give you cardiac arrest the second you step foot out of the door.

What to see in Istanbul

As a destination, Istanbul is a fascinating city, a melting pot of cultures and influences which is only to be expected from a place which literally bridges Asia and Europe. Cross the Bosphorus river and you’re in a different continent. Cruise down it and you’re smack bang in between the two continents admiring Asia on one side and Europe on the other. Though Istanbul is a fairly affordable city year-round, if you visit during winter you’ll have your pick of hotels, restaurants and activities at ridiculously low prices.

On the European side is where you’ll find the most famous sites; The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, The Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern and all the other iconic landmarks. Almost all of them are worth a visit but if you’re on limited time, you can’t skip the Grand Bazaar or Hagia Sophia.

blue mosque Istanbul

Blue Mosque
Photo Credit: Sophie Baker

Tips For Buying At The Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world and sees an astonishingly large amount of people pass through its doors every day. No visit to Istanbul is complete without a stop here. There’s almost everything under the sun from spices to glassware to clothes and bath products, and it’s a great place to buy authentic Turkish products as well as souvenirs and gifts. Who needs a mall when you have the bazaar?

If you do decide to buy something at the Grand Bazaar – and with so much beautiful stuff, it’s hard not to – then leave your inhibitions at home and haggle the price. It’s not rude in Turkish culture. In fact, it’s expected. Generally, sellers start out with a price way higher than what they’ll actually accept, especially when they spot that you’re not local. You can generally expect to get the price down by anything from 30% to 60%. The best tip is not to buy at the first store you see.

The shops at the Grand Bazaar tend to be grouped into areas of similar products, so get a rough price from one or two stores before negotiating with the one you’re most interested in. The nearer to the main entrance the prices will be higher! Even here, you can pick up some amazing bargains. Pure silk scarves, cashmere shawls, ceramic kitchenware and authentic spices are all far cheaper than they would be in South Africa.

grand bazaar istanbul

Shopping at the Grand Bazaar
Photo credit: Sophie Baker

Hagia Sophia

Visiting the Hagia Sophia is a humbling experience. Not only is it imposing in size, it’s also beautifully ornate and possesses huge cultural and historical significance. Initially built as a church in 537 during the Byzantine era, it was the largest building in the world for nearly a thousand years.

In 1453 when the Ottomans gained control of Istanbul, the famous Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful place to explore, with huge columns, stained glass windows, towering columns and the giant Quran verses suspended in the air and It has now been serving as a museum for over 80 years where it receives over three million visitors per year! The queues can be very long, so to avoid the queues either get there early, go with a tour guide, or invest in the Istanbul Museum Pass which allows you to skip the line and gives you access to the major attractions.

Istanbul Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia
Photo credit: Sophie Baker

Where to Stay

Istanbul certainly doesn’t lack hotels and accommodation, and it can be overwhelming sorting through so many accommodation options in so many different areas but for your first visit, you’re probably going to want to base yourself in the Old Town of Sultanahmet which is close to all of the main tourist sites.

Even with the prime real estate factor, you can still easily stay in a beautiful top-rated hotel for around R1000-1500 per night for two people, with breakfast included. A good option would be Hotel Amira which is located within walking distance of all the attractions and boasts a beautiful rooftop terrace where you can drink in the sights of Sultanahmet – or just drink in your cocktail! If for some reason you prefer to bypass local boutique hospitality and go with a bigger chain hotel, there’s plenty of choice in that department too from Marriott to Sofitel and more.

Indulge in the most delicious food of your life

It’s easy to see that Turkish food has gained popularity across the world, and for good reason; the things you’ve tried at home or on a night out in London really only scratch the surface of Turkish food.  When you visit Istanbul you’ll quickly realise that it is a foodie city of note, up there with Hong Kong, Berlin and Morocco.

Turkish Street Food

It’s hard to walk any street in Istanbul without coming across a food vendor of some kind every few hundred metres; whether they’re selling the famous doner kebabs or enticing you with sahlep, a hot drink made from crushed orchid root.

If you wander the streets in the morning, you’ll see locals munching on simit, something resembling a pretzel. It’s a gorgeous breakfast on-the-go made from freshly baked dough dipped in black sesame and molasses. Bagels, eat your heart out!

Delicious lamb, beef or fish sandwiches can come as cheap as R15, with wraps, kebabs and all manner of pastries ranging from R10 to R40 for a very hearty meal. Everything is freshly prepared in front of you, and you’ll be salivating just at the smell. For dessert, you can feast on hot halva encased inside cold Turkish ice-cream served from a street vendor outside the spice bazaar, the perfect sweet treat for any season.

doner istanbul

Doner
Photo credit: Sophie Baker

…and all the other food too

The street food is undeniably delicious, but even for the fine dining fans Istanbul doesn’t disappoint. In the recent World Restaurant Awards, the Istanbul-based Mikla came in at number 40. It’s by far the cheapest restaurant on the Top Fifty list, with the tasting menu starting from only R750. Not bad for one of the top fifty restaurants on the entire planet!

Another thing you absolutely cannot skip when in Turkey is, of course, Turkish delight. Visit Hafiz Mustafa for an elegant and reserved buying experience or brave the grand bazaar or spice bazaar for a more local one. It makes the perfect gift so do remember to pack a couple of boxes of the sweet treats to bring back home for those who weren’t lucky enough to make the trip with you.

The best thing about Turkish cuisine is that whether you want to eat off fine china and starched white linen or use your hands on a busy street corner, you’re guaranteed to be able to find something which is satisfying and delicious.

It’s true that money spent on travel is the only kind of spending that makes you richer; but a holiday in Istanbul is the best of both worlds. Culture, cuisine, and memories to last a lifetime without the big spending.

What are you waiting for? Book cheap flights to Istanbul now.

*Disclaimer!

All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of out-dated or incorrectly noted information.

The post Visit Istanbul This Summer For A Rand-Friendly Getaway appeared first on Travelstart Blog.

Hand Luggage Restrictions at South African Airports

[Updated: 7 December 2018]

When it comes to what you carry on to a plane, things have become stricter. ACSA has enforced new land luggage restrictions for domestic travel at airports across South Africa which came into effect 2 February 2015. Find out what you need to know for your next trip!

Economy Class passengers

At the crux of the new hand luggage regulations is that Economy Class passengers boarding a commercial aircraft are restricted to:

  • One bag + one slimline laptop bag per passenger.
  • No bag should exceed these dimensions: 36 x 23 x 56cm = total dimensions of 115cm, including handles and wheels.
  • Weight limit per bag: 7kg
  • In addition to your carry-on baggage, you may carry with you a handbag and overcoat.
  • Guests with infants seated on their laps are allowed to carry a small bag with the in-flight needs of the infant such as feeding bottles, nappies and medication.

Any hand luggage which exceeds the dimensions, piece and weight restrictions stipulated above will have to be checked-in. This could delay you, cause you to miss your flight, or incur extra charges so take heed of this announcement to avoid a frustrating domestic travel experience. The airlines are not accepting responsibility should you miss your flight due to incorrect hand baggage.

Hand Luggage Restrictions

Carry-on baggage restrictions for Business Class and First Class passengers

  • Two bags + one slimline laptop bag per business class/first class passenger.
  • No bag should exceed these dimensions: 36 x 23 x 56cm
  • Weight limit per bag: 7kg

How would you classify a slimline laptop?

A slimline laptop bag accommodates a laptop and a charger. It can be carried over the shoulder or in your hand. A slimline laptop bag does not have any wheels.

Are there exceptions?

Yes, if an airline has granted a passenger exception, a uniformed airline staff member will accompany the passenger to the security checkpoint. The airline staff member needs to confirm the exception to the security staff or any official manning the hand baggage control point. If a passenger wants to get approval for a greater baggage allowance, this can only be done by the airline.

In each of the cases above, a woman’s handbag and a man’s satchel / “man-bag” is considered part of dress code and is exempt from these regulations. Essentially what they are concerned with is people with large bags trying to pass these off as “hand luggage” in addition to bringing on regulation size hand luggage.

ACSA says

Airports Company South Africa will be supporting the airlines and the South African Civil Aviation Authority regulations with regards to hand luggage that is allowed within the cabin.

The principles of this campaign will be in the interest of ensuring compliance of the airline’s hand baggage policies and also in enhancing safety measures when flying.

The enforcement of this programme will be led by the airlines operating at Airports Company South Africa airports and supported by the airport authority.

Passengers who do not comply will be identified before the security checkpoints. In the event of hand baggage not being compliant, the passenger will be referred back to the check-in counters to check the baggage in as hold luggage.

hand luggage

Airlines say

Mango says it will not penalise travellers for additional bags that have to be checked in as a consequence of the new regulation as it does not charge per piece of baggage within its 20kg allowance.

Passengers using other low-cost airlines such as kulula and FlySafair need to be aware of the additional costs they could incur.

Kulula allows one free checked bag weighing up to 20kg and one piece of hand luggage weighing up to 7kg. Additional bags require passengers to pay between R320 (online – payable by credit card only) or R415 (at the airport). While FlySafair tickets include a hand luggage quota, checked baggage fees start at R155 (purchased online) and R250 (purchased at the airport). An extra bag will cost you R250.

Travelstart says

Always keep in mind peak travel seasons and longer queues over the holidays. Make sure you are well within the luggage restrictions to enable a seamless and hassle-free check-in experience for you and your fellow travellers.

Also check out:

Now that you’re equipped with the hand luggage restrictions start packing your bags and get ready for your next exciting trip. Sign up to Travelstart’s newsletter and get the best flight specials to incredible destinations!

What has your experience been with hand and check-in luggage at the airport? Let us know in the comments below.

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Exploring Thailand’s Islands: 11 of the Best

Known as the land of smiles, the beautiful islands of Thailand welcome you with a friendly “Sawasdee”. Choosing which of Thailand’s islands to explore can be overwhelming as each island offers something unique and special. Whether you want to party into the wee hours, learn to dive or escape on a romantic, secluded break, you’ll find the perfect island to suit your mood.

We reveal 11 of the best islands in Thailand – what to do, how to get there, and where you can stay.

11. Ko Mak

Ideal for: a quiet and remote escape

thailand islands

Photo credit: @007estefania via Instagram

One of Thailand’s lesser-known islands, Ko Mak is an undeveloped, hidden treasure. This coconut-scented island is located in the National Marine Park in eastern Thailand, filled with coconut and rubber plantations. Spend your days lazing on the beach, kayaking along the crystal-clear waters, windsurfing, snorkelling, jungle trekking, topping it all off with traditional Thai massages.

Nightlife on Ko Mak consists of swaying in your hammock, beer in hand, watching sunsets disappear from your bungalow.

How to get there: You can reach Ko Mak by speedboat from the Laem Ngop pier in Trat. There is a selection of accommodation, from simple beach huts to 4-star beach resorts right on the water.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @tj_rai via Instagram

10. Ko Samet

Ideal for: a quick city break

thailand islands

Photo credit: @veronika_brazdilova via Instagram

With its silky, dazzling-white beaches fringed with coconut palms, it is no surprise that Ko Samet is one of the best islands in Thailand. Just a stone’s throw from Bangkok, this 6km-long island is a firm favourite with locals, tourists and expats escaping here for a weekend break from Bangkok. Here you can swim, snorkel, windsurf and suntan to your heart’s content – with 14 beaches to choose from! Stroll around the centre of town perusing the souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Haad Sai Kaew, Ao Hin Khok, and Ao Phai form the island’s most popular beaches with lively cocktail bars and restaurants dotting the coastline. For a romantic trip or quiet beach break, head to the secluded bay of Ao Phrao.

Baan Ploy Sea come highly recommended for a luxury stay, or you can find plenty of alternatives along the main beach of Haad Sai Kaew.

How to get there: Take a taxi or hop on a bus from Ekkamai bus terminal to Ban Phe pier, where you can ferry across to Ko Samet within 30-40 minutes.

9. Similan Islands

Ideal for: island-hopping and scuba diving

thailand islands

Photo credit: @alyzandra3 via Instagram

Nestled away from the more popular and busier of Thailand’s islands, the Similan Islands are unknown to most travellers island-hopping through Thailand – and that’s what makes them special. These 11 sand spits together form Mu Ko Similan National Park. These islands are a diver’s paradise with visibility up to 30 metres deep. The waters are brimming with tuna, manta rays, turtles, reef sharks, barracuda, red grouper, moray eels and whale sharks.

Accommodation on the islands is limited so you’ll need to book ahead of time if you’re visiting during peak diving season. Only three of the islands have accommodation – Ko Meang, Ko Similan and Ko Tachai. Your options are basic bungalows and tented campsites. If hotels and resorts are more your kind of thing, you’re better off staying on the Khao Lak mainland and going on day trips to the islands instead.

Alternatively, you can book liveaboard boat tours for 4-5 days, giving you the opportunity to wake up between the islands, surrounded by incredible scenery and wildlife.

How to get there: This diving hotspot is just two hours by boat from Khao Lak. Note that the islands are closed to tourists between May and October.

8. Ko Pha Ngan

Ideal for: party animals

thailand islands

Photo credit: @nataliekrzy via Instagram

Often referred to as Thailand’s hedonistic island of guilty pleasures, Ko Pha Ngan is where party animals and solo travellers go to let their hair down. Located between Ko Samui and Ko Tao, island hopping between these three islands is a popular choice. Ko Pha Ngan is synonymous with full moon parties and the best ones can be found on Haad Rin’s Sunrise Beach during August, December and January. Expect action-packed beach and cocktail bars every night of the week. By day you can rent a scooter or tour guide and explore the Buddhist temples, scenery and viewpoints around the island. Phaeng Waterfall, the hidden Chaloklum Beach and the herbal sauna at Wat Pho are a few highlights not to be missed. There is no shortage of much-needed luxury spas and meditation retreats around the island.

Le Divine Comedie is a stunning beach resort with all the trimmings 15 minutes away from the action. If you want to stay in the heart of full moon party atmosphere, Suncliff Resort offers dorms and private rooms overlooking the beach.

How to get there: You can easily reach Ko Pha Ngan via a short one-hour ferry ride from Ko Samui.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @ajavopickova via Instagram

7. Ko Lipe

Ideal for: a couple’s getaway

thailand islands

Photo credit: @adepasch via Instagram

Calling all romantics and honeymooners alike. With its apricot sunsets, lively cocktail bars and unspoilt beaches, Ko Lipe sets the tone for romance. The island is void of large beach resorts, giving you long stretches of unspoilt beaches all to yourself. Ko Lipe is home to three main beaches – Sunrise, Sunset and Pattaya beaches – all within a 15 -minute walk from each other. Pattaya Beach hums with restaurants and late-night beach bars, while Sunrise Beach is perfect for snorkelling, long romantic walks, catching a tan, and luxuriating in mostly high-end resorts.

Pop into any of the restaurants along ‘Walking Street’ before heading off on an island-hopping tour or kayaking to a few private beaches, ending off at Ko Adang for sunset.

You’ll find varied accommodation on Ko Lipe. Popular options include Salisa Resort and Bloom Café and Hostel.

How to get there: The quickest way is to fly into Hat Yai, and hop onto a shuttle down to Bak Para pier where a ferry will take you to Ko Lipe for around 650 Baht. The entire island is walkable, and you won’t find many motorised vehicles apart from a few motorbikes and motorbike taxis (with sidecars).

6. Ko Chang

Ideal for: families and adventure seekers

thailand islands

Photo credit: @sebhav via Instagram

The second-largest of Thailand’s islands, Ko Chang is all about the simple life. Touching borders with Cambodia, the island is clad with dense forests, waterfalls, rivers, and hiking trails aplenty. Kayak through the mangrove swamps and stop to admire the local fishing traditions in Salakkok Bay. Don’t leave Ko Chang without taking a cooking class – there are lots to choose from in Klong Prao village!

Escape to Had Sai Noi Beach for a drink at one of the bohemian beach bars. Try some fresh crab at White Sands Beach night market, and end off your night watching the flame-throwers and dancers along Lonely Beach.

Channel your inner ‘chi’ with yoga classes at The Mangrove Hideaway or enjoy the family villas at Serenity Resort.

How to get there: You can reach Ko Chang by flying to Trat Airport, catching a shuttle to the pier and hopping on a ferry straight to the island.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @oysterhotels via Instagram

5. Phuket

Ideal for: living it up

thailand islands

Photo credit: @yoga_anneoo via Instagram

Beach yoga? Check. Water parks? Check. Thrilling nightlife? Check. Celebrity-chefs and private butlers? Check. Yip, Phuket has it all. There is no whim or fantasy that Phuket can’t make true. This famous island caters to every traveller, whether you’re after a lowkey stay or plan to live it up in style. Just a short 90-minute flight from Bangkok, Phuket is home to an array of designer boutiques, world-class cuisine, golf courses, museums, aquariums and water parks, and endless beach resorts ranging from the basic to the lavish.

Phuket is especially busy between November and February, so if you’re after a quieter crowd, consider going between March and May just before the rainy season sets in. Kata Noi and Mai Khao beaches are perfect for a more laidback vibe; while Patong is notorious for its heaving nightlife and night markets. The drive to Patong beach alone boasts phenomenal views of the karst islands dotted around Phang Nga Bay.

Bang Tao Beach is a firm favourite with its big, swaying coconut palms and reggae beach bars. COMO Point Yamu is an idyllic honeymoon stay just 20 minutes away from the beach.

For a pampering retreat, Impiana Resort Patong comes highly recommended, while the modern Hugger Hostel in Phuket Old Town is a chic, budget-friendly alternative.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @maruska88888 via Instagram

Also see: The best time to visit Phuket

4. Ko Lanta

Ideal for: a little bit of everything

thailand islands

Photo credit: @keyifliyim via Instagram

Ko Lanta is your all-around island where you can experience a bit of everything. Less than an hour’s boat ride from Krabi, Ko Lanta is all about serenity, nature and fantastic seafood. The island is over 30km long and is navigable by scooter. By day you can explore the local fishing communities and sit down to a cold beer and seafood spread with the locals. Kayak through the mangrove swamps, explore the caves on Ghost Island, hike between the jungle teahouses, indulge in a mandatory beach massage, take a cooking class and perfect your golden tan – Ko Lanta is where you come to get away from it all and relax.

Backpacker lodges have recently given way to upscale, luxury resorts but you can still find affordable bungalows and guesthouses throughout the island. Klong Nin is a peaceful alternative to the tourist bustle of Long Beach, and Baan Pakgasri Hideaway offers a rustic beach break. For something more upscale, Twin Lotus Resort and Spa is an adults-only oasis.

How to get there: Ko Lanta is easily reachable via ferry or speedboat from the surrounding islands. If you’re coming from Krabi, travelling by shuttle and car ferry is the cheapest option.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @schestakowitsch via Instagram

3. Ko Samui

Ideal for: families, honeymooners, first-timers and yogis

thailand islands

Photo credit: @_michelleju_ via Instagram

Ko Samui needs little introduction. There is plenty to see and do on the island and there is something for everyone. Ko Samui best suits families and those looking to unwind and absorb island life. It is a firm favourite for holistic retreats and yoga sanctuaries – you can find classes almost anywhere. If you’re in search of a party scene, make your way to Chaweng. Home to more of a young crowd, Chaweng is packed with busy beaches, bars and restaurants. Further north of the island lies Bophut – the perfect location for those looking for a relaxing vibe with a bit of atmosphere. Fisherman’s Village is a great day or evening tour, bustling with street food, night markets, cute boutiques and the long beaches all to yourself. Ko Samui is home to some spectacular waterfall treks and mountain bike trails for a day off the beach.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @_only_summer_ via Instagram

To get around you can hire a scooter and easily make your way around the entire island in a day. There are also plenty of taxis available to transport you to and from the port. From cosy beach bungalows to exclusive private villas, Ko Samui has endless accommodation options. New Hut Bungalows offer simple beach huts, while Sea Dance Resort is great for couples.

How to get there: If you’re limited for time, you can fly straight to Ko Samui Airport. A cheaper option is to fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani and hop on a ferry to the island. You can add around three hours to your trip from Surat Thani Airport to Ko Samui.

thailand islands

Photo credit: Nadia Marth

2. Ko Tao (Turtle Island)

Ideal for: scuba divers and adventure seekers

thailand islands

Photo credit: @fallintravel via Instagram

You could describe Ko Tao as a blend of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. What’s great is that you can visit all three of these islands within a week and have a very different experience on each of them. Ko Tao is perfect for outdoorsy types, so if rock climbing, hiking, cycling, wakeboarding, kitesurfing and scuba diving is your thing, Ko Tao is your island! You can also pick up some Muay Thai classes to test your fitness. Ko Tao is recognised as one of the best diving places in the world, and you can easily do your open water course or more advanced diving courses at any of the PADI centres on the island.

The longest and busiest beach on Ko Tao, Sairee Beach is a great spot to catch a tan, play some volleyball and watch the sunset, cocktail in hand. By night, the beach bars come alive with reggae beats and fire dancers.

You’ll find plenty of family-friendly accommodation in Ko Tao. Some favourites include Haadtien Beach Resort near Mae Haad Bay and Beach Club by Haadtien.

How to get there: Ko Tao is a two-hour ferry ride from Ko Samui.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @ihasia.kohtao via Instagram

1. Phi Phi Islands

Ideal for: solo travellers and adventure seekers

thailand islands

Photo credit: @networker.sabrinfit via Instagram

As any traveller to Phi Phi will tell you, the Phi Phi Islands are the poster-child for Thailand’s beaches. With its dramatic limestone cliffs, turquoise bays and silky-soft sands, it’s no wonder this iconic island group is on every traveller’s list. Unlike its wild sister island, Ko Pha Ngan, Phi Phi attracts more of a sophisticated young crowd looking to have a good time. The absence of frenetic scooters lends to the slow, chilled pace of Phi Phi’s atmosphere, and you can settle into quieter surroundings to the north of the island.

Phi Phi’s claim to fame is Maya Bay (along the smaller island of Ko Phi Phi Leh) where the film, The Beach, was filmed. Access to the beach is currently closed to allow the ecosystem and coral reefs to recover but you can hop on a sleep-aboard boat and tour the bay and surrounding islands. Tonsai and Loh Dalum beaches boast lively beach bars and fire dancing where you can party under the stars all night long.

Phi Phi Don is the bigger of the two islands that make up Phi Phi, and is home to some of the best beach resorts. For an extravagant splurge, spoil yourself at the 5-star Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort, featuring a dive centre, spa, infinity pool and private beach. Solo travellers might enjoy staying at Ibiza House Phi Phi, with its selection of dormitories, private rooms and villas, as well as live DJ sets and pool parties.

From rock climbing and snorkelling to pool parties, beach hangovers and Muay Thai fights, you definitely won’t be bored on Phi Phi Island.

How to get there: A short one-hour ferry ride from Phuket, or 90-minute ride from Krabi or Ko Lanta will get you to the Phi Phi Islands.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @wladimirolguin via Instagram

Tips to remember on the islands:

  1. Do not ride elephants or take photos with exotic animals – this fuels animal abuse.
  2. Respect the beaches and sea animals.
  3. Do not touch or walk on the corals.
  4. Keep enough cash on hand – not all islands have foreign exchange bureaus.
  5. Always wear a life jacket when taking a ferry or boat trip – you never know when you may need to swim ashore.
  6. Tuck into all the local dishes, and try a ‘special’ coconut – with rum!

The dry season runs from November to April. Peak season on Thailand’s islands falls between November and February, especially over weekends, so book your accommodation in advance.

Ready to explore Thailand’s islands with all their beauty, sun-kissed beaches and exciting activities? Whether it’s thrilling nightlife you’re after, or a more laidback holiday lazing under towering palm trees, you’ll find it difficult to return home once you’re living the island life. Make sure you add these 5 key ingredients for the perfect holiday in Thailand!

Book cheap flights to Thailand with Travelstart.co.za!

 

Tell us which of these islands in Thailand is your favourite in the comments below.

thailand islands

Photo credit: @scubachictravel via Instagram

Map of Thailand’s Islands

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Featured image credit: @billiemel via Instagram

The post Exploring Thailand’s Islands: 11 of the Best appeared first on Travelstart Blog.

Your Best Time to Visit Turkey

Turkey is a magnificent destination that astounds visitors with its spectacular sights, wonderful cuisine and rich heritage. There is so much to do in this beautiful country, and you could easily spend a few weeks travelling from city to city, taking in the immense metropolitan cities, breathtaking countryside views, and of course, the magnificent coasts! The best time to visit Turkey may be a hard one to decide on, as the country has four seasons that are all equally magical in their own regard! Set your travel dates to which season suits you best, and embark on a journey of a lifetime. Depending on your season of choice, prepare to wander the alleyways of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, float hundreds of metres above ground in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, make your way through the culturally-infused streets of Ankara, or let the warm sea waters caress your toes in the coastal city of Izmir!

grand-bazaar-visit-turkey

Image courtesy of @septem_vita via Instagram.

Weather

The coast of Turkey, including popular cities such as Antalya, Bodrum and Izmir, has a wonderful Mediterranean climate with warm temperatures throughout the year and clear, summer days. Winters on the coast are rather mild, with slightly wet days in between. The inner regions of the country are much more continental than the coast and due to the mountainous areas, the climate of central Turkey has four distinct seasons – including a hot summer and icy, snowy winter! Summer in Turkey falls between the months of June and August, and winter falls between the months of November and January.

When looking for the best time to visit Turkey to get the best of it all, consider visiting during the shoulder season of the country. Visiting over the spring and autumn seasons is a wonderful idea as you’re bound to enjoy warm days and almost no rain. Also, crowds are much thinner during this time and you can explore at your own pace. Spring in Turkey falls between the end of March and May, whereas autumn can be enjoyed between September and early November.

Summer

izmir-beach-visit-turkey

Image courtesy of @travellingguggs via Instagram.

With its Mediterranean climate and hot temperatures, summer in Turkey is best spent soaking up the glorious sun in and around the coastal cities. Did someone say daytime highs of around 30°C? Expect only the most amazing beach vacation in Turkey! The country has some wonderful cities and towns to visit during the hot days of the year such as Patara City, with its longest beach strip in all of the country, the all-white Bodrum, with plenty of pristine beaches and Antalya, with its picture-perfect Mediterranean atmosphere and the amazing Konyaalti Beach. These are just a few of the top beaches in Turkey, with hundreds more to choose from during your summer vacation.

Spring and Autumn

visit-turkey-istanbul

Image courtesy of @gulernazarli via Instagram

Spring and autumn in Turkey are great alternatives to visit this beautiful country. The temperatures are pleasant and with thinner crowds than during summer, you’re bound to have a more relaxed and enjoyable time visiting. Spring time temperatures range between 15 and 23 °C. This is ideal for city sightseeing and visiting famous attractions in the capital city, Ankara and the heart of the country, Istanbul. You will have the time and space to take leisurely walks, visiting places such as the Blue Mosque and hike up a hill to see the famous Ankara Castle! For the leisurely traveler, this may be the best time to visit Turkey for sure.  Autumn in the coastal cities is quite a treat as though daytime highs are considerably lower; the sea temperatures tend to stay on the warmer side, so dips in the ocean are a great way to end off a busy day relaxing. Order a portion of baklava at a nearby restaurant to end off your day with a taste of this delicious dessert.

visit-turkey-tea-treats

Image courtesy of @sweetchrisbee via Instagram.

Winter

Winter can get pretty cold and icy in Turkey, making it the perfect location for a white festive season and a great option to indulge in some snow sport! The snowy hilltops of the north-eastern region of the country are the best place to be for this. The cities of Antalya and Bursa are great options when looking for ski spots with winters that can reach -10 degrees Celcius on a regular day in January! That said, whereas the coastal cities of Turkey are more or less shut down during winter except for the festive season, the big cities are alive and all-welcoming, making winter quite possibly the best time to visit Turkey. During your Turkish winter break in the city, enjoy wholesome Turkish dishes at any of the top restaurants across the country and after, have your fortune told after a steaming cup of brewed Turkish coffee.

Daytime temperatures

Summer: 05:00 – 20:30

Summer in Turkey guarantees warm, sunny days and 13 hours of daylight to enjoy. The sun rises early and this is ideal for early morning trips down to the ocean if you’re on the coast, or even just the famous Turkish breakfast to be enjoyed in cafes around the city centres.

Winter: 08:00 – 17:30

visit-turkey-hot-air-balloons

Image courtesy of @sarapepolibiasin via Instagram.

Winter in Turkey can be quite chilly with short days of 9 and a half hours. Don’t worry though as this is more than sufficient for days exploring the cities or better yet, skiing on the slopes of the Andalusian region in the north of the country.

How much are flights to Turkey?

Peak season: June to August

During the summer season, Turkey is a buzz of activity and flights to the country can be on the slightly pricier side. Book at least 3 months ahead of time to avoid hefty prices and budget to spend around 15% more for your flight tickets and accommodation than the rest of the year.

Festive season: December/January

Though Turkey is in the heart of its winter during this time, the appeal of a white Turkish festive season is certainly high! Flights and accommodation are known to be highest when booking last minute, and you can look at spending up to 50% more for flights than during summer!

Shoulder/off-peak season: March/April

Enjoy more affordable flights during the best time to visit Turkey at a fraction of the cost. Flights during this period of time are really well-priced, and you can look at securing your tickets to this beautiful destination for around 15% cheaper than during peak season.

Book your cheap flights to Turkey with Travelstart today!

 

Annual Events

Mesir Paste Festival, end of March

This festival has been around for more almost 500 years and celebrates the wonder of the miracle cure, mesir. Every year between the 21st and 24th of March, the paste is prepared by chefs and their apprentices and distributed amongst festival goers in the town of Manisa. Join in the fun of catching little portions of the paste thrown from the city’s minarets and enjoy the concerts after!

Victory Day, 30 August

visit-turkey-red-balloons

Image courtesy of @leeroy_martinez via Instagram.

A day to remember in Turkish history, Victory Day celebrates the Turkish War of Independence and this date, 30 August, is an annual public holiday. The country comes together to enjoy military parades, speeches and visiting monuments across the country, especially so in Ankara. Visitors can look forward to the parades, air force demonstrations and traditional sweets to enjoy.

Istanbul International Music Festival, end of May

This prestigious event takes place every year in the city of Istanbul and brings together classical music enthusiasts from across the world. The event is known to be creative and uplifting, with fresh ideas and takes on old classics. Look forward to performances across the country in concert halls, with free mini concerts across parks and gardens.

Oil Wrestling Festival, June

This festival is more than 600 years and is encourages men from all across the country to join in the fun! Participants are put into various groups, dependent on age and size, and are then oiled and set up to wrestle each other in the name of good ol’ fun. The winner then carries a gold belt, which is paraded through the city of Edirme.

Whirling Dervishes Festival, mid-December

Celebrating the life and works of Sufi poet, Rumi, this music and dance festival is one for the books. See the famous whirling dervishes and participate in the dancing, singing and poetry readings that take place during the event. The festival is a week-long and takes place in the city of Konya.

visit-turkey-whirling-dervishes

Image courtesy of @muniii_moonbean via Instagram.

Turkey is such a wonderful destination and is on many a bucket list! Have you been to this country or plan on visiting soon? Sign up to our newsletter for the best flight deals and holiday packages to Turkey and an endless list of magical destinations!

 

Featured image courtesy of @globe_today via Instagram.

 

The post Your Best Time to Visit Turkey appeared first on Travelstart Blog.

See Zagreb and Istanbul (On A South African Budget)

Combine the gorgeous cities of Zagreb and Istanbul for a whirlwind European experience. The magical Croatian capital is an underappreciated European wonderland, while the bustling east-meets-west metropolis of Istanbul will leave you enthralled and breathless.

You might have noticed that Turkish airlines is offering some insanely cheap flights to Istanbul and the rest of Europe lately. If you haven’t, you’ve been missing out on some amazing travel opportunities.

As South Africans, it can be hard to stomach the price of travelling through Europe, especially when you’re talking about cities like London, Vienna and Paris; they’re all beautiful, but not the most rand-friendly getaways. Luckily for us there’s now a way for you to travel to Europe and see not one but two cities, all while keeping to a tight budget, thanks to Turkish Airlines’ Touristanbul initiative,

Here’s how to do it!

Flights

Book with Travelstart to get Turkish airlines flights from Johannesburg to Croatia at R8,259 return for loads of dates in 2019. You’ll stop over in Istanbul, where you can take advantage of the TourIstanbul programme, which you can read about here. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get to experience the impressive newly-opened Istanbul airport, set to be the biggest airport in the world upon completion. Yep, even bigger than JFK or Heathrow!

Depending on layover time, some economy passengers are entitled to a night in a four star hotel in the city. If you’re not there overnight but have a good few hours to kill, there’s the option of a layover tour where you can see the sights and sounds of Istanbul. If you qualify for the layover, you’ll likely be put up for the night in the area of Sultanahmet or Beyoglu, two of the best-located neighbourhoods of Istanbul. All of this is free and comes as part of your airfare. During the tour, for example, you’ll even get free entrance to the major sights such as Hagia Sophia as well as a free meal.

If you want longer in Istanbul, you can also opt to spend a night or two there on the inbound or outbound journey by purchasing a multi-city ticket, which Travelstart can help you with.

What to Do In Istanbul

Istanbul is a sightseer’s dream, and there’s plenty to keep you occupied for a short stay in the city. Here are some of the most popular places to visit. Most of the mosques and palaces are closed on Tuesdays, while the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays.

The Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya

Probably Istanbul’s most famous sight. A huge, majestic temple set against the Istanbul skyline, it’s hard to miss the red walls of what was the world’s biggest church for nearly a thousand years before being converted into a mosque. Hagia Sophia is now a museum detailing the incredible history of the mosque, where you can still marvel at the original carvings and portraits, huge monuments and intricate golden ceilings.

Istanbul/Ayasofya at night

Istanbul at Night
Photo credit: @pencilandpolaroid via Instagram

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi palace was the home of generations of Ottoman Sultans and their wives for nearly four hundred years, and became a museum in 1924. Manicured green courtyards, a glittering treasury featuring the crown jewels of the empire, collections of art, ornate Turkish baths and intricately tiled rooms make it a must-see in Istanbul. Walk to the end and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over the Sea of Marmara as well as the Bosphorus River and the Golden Horn. Eat your heart out, Buckingham Palace!

The Blue Mosque

One of the few sites that is free to visit. Similar in style to Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque isn’t one of the biggest but it is one of the most detailed and beautiful. Currently, there’s a lot of restoration going on which for some people can detract from the experience, but it’s still worth visiting.  It’s worth noting that you need to bring a scarf if you’re a woman as it’s an active mosque and requires your hair to be covered.

Grand Bazaar

A visit to the Grand Bazaar is a must-do for bargain hunters in Istanbul. Contrary to popular belief, the Grand Bazaar isn’t just one big tourist trap. Plenty of locals do their shopping there buying everything from carpets and leather goods to everyday items like spices, cooking ware and a multitude of other things. There’s around five thousand shops under the roof of the grand bazaar, so it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything you couldn’t find here. If you want to bring home souvenirs, jewellery or even a gorgeous leather bag, the Grand Bazaar is the place to go. Be sure to take note of where you entered the Grand Bazaar – it’s a crowded maze of stalls, smells, and sounds; ‘organised chaos’ is a gentle way of describing it! Remember that negotiating on price is expected, so don’t be shy!

Where to stay – Istanbul

For first time visitors to Istanbul, Sultanahmet is the best area to base yourself. Though it quietens down at night, it’s close to all of the major attractions and means you can easily walk around between them. It’s also easy to navigate and has plenty of public transport options nearby including trams and metro stations.

If you’ve visited before or are visiting for a long period, you may want to consider Beyoglu, a more local neighbourhood with plenty of nightlife and restaurants. It’s across the river, meaning a tram ride is necessary to reach Sultanahmet for sightseeing. It’s R6 or so for a ride on the tram, but they can get crowded in peak times.

What To Do In Zagreb

Taste wine

Set in a 200 year old cellar near the Zagreb Cathedral is Bornstein, the city’s oldest wine bar. Inside it houses a small wine shop as well as a little bar; a tasting there is special experience thanks to the passionate and knowledgeable owners. Croatian wine is some of the best and cheapest on offer in Europe, and their red varietals are especially good. You can opt for ‘the usuals’ like merlot or a good cabernet sauvignon, or you can go for the local varieties…who knows, maybe you’ll discover the Croatian version of South Africa’s pinotage.

Take Photos From The Zagreb Skyscraper

Based just off the main square of Ban Jelacic, the Zagreb Skyscraper offers a bar and restaurant with 360 degree panoramic views from the city’s tallest building. Take the ride up to the top floor and walk around, taking in the sights of the business district to the bottom, the beautiful old town, the lower town and main square and the residential suburbs. From the Skyscraper you have unobstructed views of St Mark’s Square and the Zagreb Cathedral.

Visit a Museum

Zagreb has more museums per capita than anywhere else in the world; and they’re not just boring, stuffy museums either. There’s the world-famous museum of broken relationships, as well as the kid-friendly museum of illusions.

Day trip to Plitvice

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia’s most beautiful places and – dare we say it – one of the most beautiful places in the world. A huge national park full of waterfalls, forests and wooden bridges linking bright turquoise and emerald lakes and streams, it’s stunning in every season. In winter, the water often freezes over to create waterfalls that are frozen in time, as if someone had simply wandered in and pressed the pause button. In autumn you’ll see the lakes contrasted against shades of red, yellow and orange hues and in spring and summer, there’s brilliant sunshine and gorgeously clear waters, making it beautiful for hiking. Plitvice is an absolute wonderland only two hours from Zagreb, and is definitely a one of Croatia’s must-do’s.

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Plitvice Lakes, two hours outside Zagreb
Photo credit: @pencilandpolaroid via Instagram

Day Trip to Lake Bled, Slovenia

Yep, that’s right! If you’re feeling ambitious you can even fit in a third European country on your trip! The atmospheric capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana is only a two-hour drive from Zagreb. It’s then a short drive on to Lake Bled, which is one of the most picturesque places you’ll ever see in your life, particularly when the mountains develop snowy peaks in the winter months.

Where to stay – Zagreb

The best area to stay in Zagreb is Donji Grad, or Lower Town. Bed and Breakfast or traditional guesthouses are more limited than apartments, but there are a few around such as Regal Residence, right in the pedestrian zone of Zagreb.

Otherwise, there are a selection of good three, four and five star hotels; Jagerhorn Hotel is a good three-star option in a convenient area, but Esplanade Hotel is a fantastic deal for the five-star luxury that it offers. Plus, the spread at breakfast is so enticing (think bottomless champagne, endless smoked salmon and freshly squeezed orange juice) that you’ll probably not need to eat again until dinner! Or if you prefer the comforts of home, you can choose one of the many apartments on offer in the centre. Some are tiny bachelor flats, others are huge and luxurious modern penthouses.

zagreb esplanade hotel

Hotel Esplanade in Zagreb
Photo credit: @pencilandpolaroid via Instagram

If you really want to cut costs or are travelling alone and fancy meeting new people there’s an abundance of hostels in Zagreb; a great option is Taban hostel which sits right at the top of the vibrant Tkalčićeva street.

Have you visited Turkey or Croatia recently? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

*Disclaimer!

All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of out-dated or incorrectly noted information.

The post See Zagreb and Istanbul (On A South African Budget) appeared first on Travelstart Blog.

Go Temple hopping in Cambodia and discover Angkor Wat!

Bordered by Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia is a country rich in heritage. It has warm, friendly people and an untouched wild landscape. Angkor Wat is located in Siem Reap, a resort town in north western Cambodia. It’s located in the largest temple complex in Southeast Asia and the largest temple complex in the world!

Siem Reap is a town that offers a large variety of activities, a range of world-class restaurants and is very affordable which makes it an ideal destination for those who enjoy travelling on a budget. Besides exploring the attractive temples, you can also spend some time feasting at the food markets in town or try out a fish pedicure.

Photo credit: @Dineo_Zonke via Instagram

About Angkor Wat

Many Cambodians describe Angkor Wat as a miniature replica of the universe in stone which represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. The beautiful and extensive temple ruins at Angkor, a UNESCO Heritage site, represent the Khmer civilisation. In total, there are about 50 Buddhist and Hindu temples in Siem Reap for you to explore.

Angkor Wat is an architectural masterpiece. The well preserved Khmer monument is the most photographed in the world, and nothing is better than actually experiencing and exploring the temple in person. Building Angkor Wat was, of course, a very complex process.

Photo credit: @Dineo_Zonke via Instagram

Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple is famously known as the “temple with the many faces”. It is also very popular among travellers. There are approximately 200 smiling faces, each about 4 meters high, carved into stone towers. Bayon was built by Jayavarman VII, the former King of the Khmer Empire.

Ta Prohm

The well known Tomb Raider movie was filmed in Ta Prohm in 2012. Among locals, the temple is now also called the “Tomb Raider Temple”. You can visit the temple early in the morning; this is highly recommended because many tourists will be watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat during this time. Ta Prohm is nested in the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation and many of the trees have become one with the ruins that remain. Photographers can beautifully capture this amazing battle between nature and architecture. Fig and Bayon tree roots are intertwined with the buildings, creating an aesthetically pleasing environment.

Photo credit: @Dineo_Zonke via Instagram

Angkor Pass

Depending on how you would like to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park, there are three different types of passes to choose from. What’s awesome is that you don’t need to explore all the temples in one day.

  • 1-day pass – US$ 37 (about R500)
  • 3-day pass – US$ 62 (about R860)
  • 7-day pass – US$ 72 (about R1,000)

Please note: The 3-day pass is valid for 10 days from the issue date, the 7-day pass is valid for 1 month from the issue date. With both passes it’s not necessary to plan your visits on consecutive days.

Transport options

The majority of tourists who visit Angkor Wat specifically go there for the glorious sunrise. You should get to there early, especially if you are travelling during high season. It is wise to book your transport to Angkor Wat the day before you plan to visit. This will give you enough time to rest. You can wake up on time and be ready for the adventurous day ahead. An early start ensures you a good spot to watch the sunrise and take pictures from.

If you have not yet purchased your ticket on the day, ask your driver to start by taking you to the ticket office, which is about 5 km from the entrance of Angkor Wat. As long as you don’t stay too far outside the city there isn’t much difference in locations as it relates to getting there for sunrise. Make sure your driver knows what time you want to arrive at the gates of Angkor Wat for sunrise. The gates to the temple open at 5 am.

Tuk Tuk

Renting a tuk tuk for the day is a fun way to fully enjoy your temple hopping experience. Expect to pay about R200 for the driver to drive you around the whole day. You can arrange pick up times with your driver that best suits your needs.

Car

A more comfortable option compared to renting a tuk tuk is to rent a car. The Cambodian heat can be unbearable so cooling off with an A/C will definitely be refreshing. For a full day tour including sunrise and sunset, you’re looking at about R600. If you’re not concerned with seeing the sunrise or sunset, you can get a day tour for about R500 by car.

Minivan

Renting a minivan is suitable if you are travelling in a group as it may be an expensive option if you’re travelling alone. An A/C equipped minivan can typically fit 10-12 passengers and will usually cost around R900 in total for the day.

Photo credit: @Dineo_Zonke via Instagram

When is the best time to visit Siem Reap?

The best time to go to Angkor Wat is from December to February.

Accommodation in Siem Reap

Stay at Siem Reap central area for convenient transport to the Angkor temples and the airport. It’s also within the prime nightlife & food district of the city. Grab rock-bottom rates and avoid fully-booked rooms by booking online as soon as you have booked your cheap flight to Cambodia. There are many different types of accommodation for all budgets. The cheapest can cost you about R150 per person, per night.

Visa Requirements

South Africans need to apply for a visa in order to visit Cambodia. Either a visa on arrival or e-visa which is valid for 30 days and costs about R500.

Photo credit: @Dineo_Zonke via Instagram

Useful Khmer Phrases

Khmer is the local language spoken in Cambodia and its constructed on a series of symbols. Here are a few key phrases in transliteration form for you to start practicing:
Hello – Chom Reap Sour
Yes – Bah (for males) and Jah (for females)
My name is… – Knyom Chhmua…
How much is this? – Bo man?

Have you visited Cambodia yet? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

The post Go Temple hopping in Cambodia and discover Angkor Wat! appeared first on Travelstart Blog.