Tuesday 15 July 2014 | By Jess Keene |
As this was my first time to China, I had nothing but what I had read, and the stories of others, to guide my expectations.
I found Guangzhou to be a vibrant urban jungle, with a mass of huge skyscrapers, towering overpasses and throngs of smart, modern people. But amongst the seeming chaos, there are many, many hidden gems to be found. Wonderful, quaint parks are dotted amongst the high-rises, giving the city a strong sense of pride and community. The sparkling Pearl River meanders quietly through the city, washing the surrounding nightspots with a sense of calm and fun. And the blend of centuries old buildings, mixed with modern architecture, gives the impression that Guangzhou is proud of its past, but certainly is looking towards the future.
The magic of Tibet starts before you have even officially arrived. Flying over the mighty Himalaya ranges is a true treat in itself, and you just can’t help but feel excited for what you hope to find when you arrive.
After about a 45mins drive from the airport, through the Tibetan countryside, you arrive at Lhasa city. I guarantee, this will exceed your expectations. Years of public works have transformed Lhasa into a colourful and thriving city. Beautifully landscaped gardens line the streets, creating boulevards that invite promenading. Simple, but wonderfully decorated, buildings create atmosphere and charm. And of course, you cannot be in Asia without some chaotic driving to get your heart racing just that little bit.
Our first treat of the city was a visit to the Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Circuit. Located in the heart of Lhasa, the UNESCO site is an ultimate destination for Tibetan Pilgrims. Outside the Jokhang Temple, we see rows of people softly offering traditional prayers and prostrations to Buddha. As we shuffled our way inside with hundreds of Tibetans, we were met with the smells of yak butter oil and incense. A sense of anticipation grew, as we slowly moved towards the room that housed a beautiful, and incredibly sacred, golden statue of Buddha. As believed to be one of only three that were constructed in his lifetime, the awe of seeing this relic was incredibly humbling.
Next we slowly made our way around the holiest of Lhasa’s pilgrim circuits, the 1km Barkhor Circuit. Here we were fascinated by the true dedication of some pilgrims, performing a prostration every three steps. Moving together with the crowd, the sense of being part of something much bigger than ourselves was intoxicating.
Our second treat was a visit to the Potala Palace, the official winter residence of the Dalai Lama, and the highest ancient palace in the world. The grandeur of the palace was amplified by the fact that to get to the top, we would have to climb the 300 or so steps, which was not an easy prospect at this altitude. As we puffed our way to the top, we caught glimpses of Lhasa below.
The effort was well worth it, as inside was a true wonder. We toured the ceremonial hall, housing the magnificent throne of the Dalai Lama, and saw his private rooms and audience halls. All were beautifully decorated with murals, painted scrolls, carpets, canopies, and curtains. Inside we saw numerous sculptures of porcelain, jade, and fine objects of gold and silver. The palace was stunning, and would easily rival those of Europe. On our descent, we were treated with spectacular views of Lhasa, showing the bustling city surrounded by the mountains.
A rural town southwest of Lhasa, Gyantse is one of the least Chinese influenced towns in Tibet. The drive here is all about the journey, rather than the destination, as the 260km trip is a 6 hour drive up and over the mountains. You truly are on top of the world here, as the highest ascent reaches over 5000mts above sea level. Up here, we were treated to spectacular views of the world below, and crystal blue glacial lakes. So cold and high that rain turned to sleet, it was truly a memorable drive.
Gyanste is home to the Pelkor Chode Monastery, and ruins of a British built ‘Old Fort’ which overlooks the town and valley.
We visited the Monastery, which was an amazing sensory experience. We entered a dimly lit temple, and were surrounded by the overwhelming smell of incense and yak butter oil. The air was filled with the humming of mantras from the praying monks. Our gaze was drawn from bowls of brightly coloured powder, being carefully blessed (the monks were creating a floor Mandela), to the walls, that were decorated with 1000 individual paintings of Buddha. Wonder turned to great delight, when the monks cheekily carried out their work, laughing at their mishaps and pulling faces for our cameras. Outside the temples, the wonderful and welcoming nature of the monks was also seen, and their friendly smiles were heartfelt.
2 hours northwest of Gyanste, Shigatse is Tibet’s second largest city. Its main attraction is the Tashilhunpo Monastery, the proposed home of the Panchen Lama, or Buddha of Infinite Light.
This was the largest monastery we visited, and had a much different feel to it. Like the others, it was wonderfully decorated and full of magnificent and precious relics. But it was the monks that made this place special. At the time of our visit, almost every monk we saw was a young boy or a teenager. Much to our surprise, they acted far more like boys at a boarding school, than the humble and disciplined monks that we would expect. They laughed, played jokes on each other, play fought and gossiped like young boys would. They even had iphones hidden under their robes, as one nine-year-old monk sneakily pulled out as we were leaving one temple. This was certainly a lovely and memorable place.
We were lucky enough to travel business class. I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. I found the cabin staff to be friendly, helpful and accommodating. The food out of Australia was delicious. The food out of China was good, but perhaps a bit more inclined toward the Chinese palate. The seats were spacious and comfortable, and the entertainment was extensive and easy to use. Considering their fares are VERY competitive, this airline is (in my opinion) great value for money.
Wednesday 11 June 2014 | By Tahnee Wherritt |
Our tour completely met my expectations, as Wendy Wu is often held in high regard. George, our Chinese guide, was friendly, approachable and happy. He organised our every need, be it our transportation, lunch orders or hotel check-ins. His behaviour was exemplary, and he was a true delight to have on the tour. Our Tibetan guide, Tenzhen, is an incredible man. Not only was he professional, knowledgeable and helpful, he was extremely cheeky and funny. He also demonstrated the greatness of his religion, showing deep integrity and kindness. His nature made the trip extremely memorable and special, and it was a pleasure to meet him.
On of our fantastic clients Rennay recently visited Vietnam with her husband to celebrate her 40th birthday. She was kind enough to share her experience below:
Vietnam exceeded all our expectations. My husband and I wanted to do something special to celebrate my 40th birthday and I couldn't have asked for a better experience than the Bhaya Legend private junk cruising on the incredible, romantic and mysterious HaLong Bay.
Wednesday 11 June 2014 | By Tahnee Wherritt |
To experience the breathtaking and beautiful HaLong Bay in the tranquil surrounds of this luxury boat with a very professional and easy going crew made this trip very special. We chose a two night cruise and I believe this was the ideal amount of time out on the bay. The Bay is typically busy with a large number of cruise boats mostly doing one night cruises so the extra time we had enabled us to get away to secluded places and experience the caves, kayaking, beaches and bike ride by ourselves, which was a real privilege.
The food was generous and well catered and I enjoyed the opportunity to meet the chef and watch him cook. We were always informed of the options and activities available for us to do and we could choose to do as much or little as we wished, another benefit of being the only guests on board. We truly relaxed and were spoilt on this holiday and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for that something special.
We spent a night either side of the cruise at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, which was the icing on the cake, a fabulous, international hotel worthy of its "Legend" status. Our transfers and tour guides were friendly, on time and very knowledgeable which only added to the great experience we had. Thank you Marion for your pulling this trip together for us and your recommendations helped make this a truly memorable holiday.
Last month, our WTP Leisure Travel Consultant, Carol Horlock visited Dubai an has shared her experience below:
Wednesday 14 May
On arrival, we collected our luggage and passed through Customs & Immigration without hassle. We were separated in Groups according to Hotel allocation - We met our Arabian Adventure Transfer Guide and Coach transfer to our Hotel for the next 5 Nights.
Arrival at our Hotel- JUMEIRAH EMIRATES TOWERS best described as a very warm Welcome from The Hotel Manager Imran Changezi, Director of Sales Anne Liiyanage and our very lovely host from Germany Sales Manager-Leisure Kathrin Bauer.
Check-in was efficient – note all Passports’ were retained for scanning, we were advised they could be collected the next morning. My room on 23rd floor, 2307 was large with a sitting area, large bathroom with Bath, Bidet, large separate shower, in room safe, Hairdryer and Mini Bar. Bathroom Cabinet was cleverly designed with a large mirror plus a magnetic/light mirror.
After freshening up we met in the Hotel Lobby by Travco, Ground Operator for transfer to FAIRMONT THE PALMS, A Beachside location for a Welcome Function where we were greeted by Kim Tomlinson, Emirates Queensland Sales Manager Veronica Rainbird and Julie King from Dubai Tourism. The evening was spent networking with associations and partners in this wonderful location with Food Stations set up to cater for all tastes, including some local delicacies. http://www.fairmont.com/palm-dubai/
Thursday 15 May
Transfer by Meeting Point UAE our Grand Transport to MEYDAN RACECOURSE (the richest Racehorse in the world is held here/Hosted by Meydan Hotel’s the DTCM Workshop included presentations by Key Partners and Suppliers. The new logo for Dubai Tourism featured.
Workshop – 4 minute tabletop presentations including Hotel’s, Operators and Suppliers.
Desert Safari – This experience not to be missed – reach by 4WD Dune Driving through the Desert has been renamed Dune Cruising, not to be confused with Dune Bashing (I declined the Dune Bashing but have it on good authority I did not miss anything with the 4WD Sand Experience being pleasurable). The evening involves Falcon Viewing, Belly Dancing, Henna tattooing, and Arabic style buffet under the stars in the Bedouin-style camp. Seating on huge cushions with the opportunity to experience the aromatic shisha.
Friday 16 May
MY DUBAI DAY – 41 Teams in Groups of 6 met at Dubai Mall (largest Shopping Mall in the World with 1200 shops) All Teams were provided with compulsory to wear Dubai T Shirts sporting the new Logo, Emirates Cap and Lanyard. The event was sponsored by 1001 Events. All Teams were provided with I Pads and instruction on how to complete the challenge for the day, involving a series of tasks to be combined with photographs uploaded to facebook. The day started with access to At the Top of the Burj Khalifa, Tallest Building in the World. http://www.burjkhalifa.ae/en/
Set times with a short lift journey to floor 124. Magnificent views of Dubai. Any Visitors wishing to experience this definitely need to book. Cost for General Admission set times- AED125.00 (Approx AUD38.00 per Adult) – Fast Track tickets available –AED400.00 Per Adult (Approx AUD$118.00)
The day concluded with Cocktails and Canapes at The Madinat Jumeirah on the Beach watching the sunset over the Burj Al Arab, a very special event, recommended to any extended stay Guests in Dubai.
Saturday 17 May
Transfer by SNTTA Ground Operator for our Walking Tour of the old Souk Area, through the spices Souk on the Deira side, a good way to experience the Middle Eastern Culture, an opportunity to visit the Gold Souks (average cost $123 per gram, here you can bargain for as much Gold as you would like at the huge amount of Gold stores of various standards and type. www.soukalbahar.ae
Walk to the Creek and board the traditional Abra (Water Taxi) to cross the Creek, on the other side the walk continued to Bastakiya an area established at the end of the 19th Century by Arab textile and pearl Trading Immigrants from Iran. The area is being restored to provide Tourists with some of the Heritage and History of the Region and includes Galleries and Museum. Located in the heart of old Dubai is the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural understanding – A Traditional Emirati Brunch can be enjoyed – highly recommend this during any visit to Dubai www.culture.ae
Sunday 18 May
Transfer by Gulf Venture (Virtuoso onsite) to Ski Dubai – Snow Resort, the First Indoor ski resort in the Middle East – bring the beanie and Gloves
ATLANTIS-AQUAVENTURE - http://www.atlantisthepalm.com/marineandwaterpark.aspx
The Ultimate Adventure and Water Park located at Atlantis The Palm – here you can float on the water all day, Scuba Drive, Visit the Dolphins, take in the amazing Lost Chamber Aquarium. Ideal for Family visitors
Gala Dinner at Atlantis The Palm – An amazing array of Food from some of the 21 Restaurants at the Resort (including Nobu). To top that off was the “Chocolate River” a 100kg of chocolate which circulates along a metal channel for dipping Fruit and other delicacies. The amount and display of food was totally hedonistic.
The Group of 11, I shared these experiences with, including Craig Brown, Senior Sales Executive who ensured that we all had a fantastic famil in Dubai.
Best time to Visit Dubai – January/February – Best weather and for shopping sales, include 25 – 75% off
What is happening in Dubai - www.dubaicalendar.com
Dress – Cultural sensitivities prevail – in Public areas Conservative, i.e. shoulders and knees should be covered.
Currency - Dirhams approximately 1$AUD = 3.41 Dhs Currency can be purchase in Australia, Bank for Currency Exchange.
Language – Arabic is official – English is widely spoken (80% expats make up the population of Dubai)
MarHuba = Welcome/Hello
Shukran = Tann k y ou
Na’am = Yes
La” = No
This opportunity was very beneficial as I had neither flown on Emirates, nor been to Dubai. The experience was invaluable in my ability to provide informed advice to my clients, in particular since the Emirates/Qantas relationship has evolved and many more clients are stopping in Dubai. Emirates has an excellent stopover programme check for promotions on emiratesagents.com/au
Dubai can be recommended as a stopover destination or for a more extended holiday that may include Abu Dhabi and Oman. For clients who seek a shopping experience, the choices and options are endless. I visited only 3 of the shopping malls which would probably take 12 months or more to explore, Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre. In Dubai Mall you can find Dubai Aquarium, KidZania and At The Top Burj Khalifa, as well as high end stores and labels, such as Harvey Nicholls, Bloomingdales, Hambleys famous fine London Toy Store, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer Mango, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Coach etc. etc.
My sincere thanks to Emirates, Dubai Tourism, Jumeirah Hotels and World Travel Professionals for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this excellent experience which I am sure will be mutually beneficial to all concerned. I look forward to sharing knowledge gained with my colleagues.