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By Annabel | Published: May 10, 2013
Stephen Walker was pleasantly surprised by an unplanned visit to a temple in northern Thailand.
It was the late afternoon of a long day. We had spent the morning in the hills north of Chiang Rai visiting temples and a tea factory (the tea was wonderful and we bought plenty to bring home). After stopping in the city for a quick lunch we headed south to a museum, another temple and Phayao Lake. Our guide was snoozing in the front seat and Helen and I were wondering where to go for dinner when the driver nudged the guide. They had a quick conversation then turned to us and asked if we would like to see another temple before returning to the hotel. I must admit that we were not overly-excited at the prospect but, as it was very close to our route, we agreed.
At the next junction we turned left and there in front of us was the White Temple. Unlike anything we had seen before, except perhaps in fantasy paintings, it shone and sparkled in the setting sun. We parked the CRV and joined the small crowds to wander round the site. The white and silver temple building with its bridge was reflected in the pool that leads up to it. Sculptures of skulls and reaching arms were like scenes from Bosch and Breughel. Images from movies dangled from trees along with what looked like Spanish moss.
Orange robed monks mingled with excited children but, even though it may have looked a little like Disneyland, the atmosphere was respectful and quiet.
In the shade near the gate a few people were gathered surrounding a man lounging on a bench. This was the artist and architect of the temple, Chalermchai Kositpipat. People were having their photographs taken with him and seemed in awe of the man and his achievements. He smiled continuously.
The White Temple is still a work in progress and won’t be finished for many years yet. Some new buildings still have scaffolding, but it certainly doesn’t feel or look like a construction site. It was not on our Cox &Kings itinerary, but was a wonderful surprise that I may well remember longer than other places that we have been on this and other trips. I would love to go back in a few years to see how it has changed.
View Cox & Kings’ Thailand holidays.
By Annabel | Published: May 7, 2013
Anne and Jeff McCormack recently visited Sri Lanka with Cox & Kings, included in their trip were visits to a spice garden, elephant orphanage, a Hindu temple, botanical gardens and a tea factory, as well as a few days relaxing on the west coast at Wadduwa for a few days of doing nothing.
Our 10-hour flight to Colombo came to an end to the strains of the song Sri Lanka Beautiful on the aircraft video and we were looking forward to experiencing some of those sights and sounds in reality. It was a bit of a shock to learn, on arrival, that the road journey to our first hotel would take more than five hours. It took a little time to acclimatise ourselves to the fairly poor road conditions, but our personal driver, Samudra, was wonderful and soon even I was feeling safe in his hands – despite the constant flow of tuk tuks and motorbikes in our path. A stop at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage alleviated the tedium and finally we arrived in the dark to a fantastic welcome from the hotel staff.
The Ulagalla Resort was heaven – only 21 totally private and very comfortable chalets set in around 20 hectares of paddies and forest with nothing but the birds, cows and monkeys to disturb us, although the peacocks did make their presence known at times. Buggy rides summoned at a moment’s notice would take you to wherever you wanted to go in the resort, including the main hotel building, which housed the restaurant and where we experienced our first spicy Sri Lankan curry – although you could of course dine on your own private terrace beside your own private plunge pool under the stars.
More long, often bumpy road journeys took us to the main archaeological sites in the Cultural Triangle, including Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa (what a pity not more of these once magnificent buildings survive) and the world heritage site of Sigiriya Rock, where we encountered our first iguana. Our confidence in our driver continued and he did all he could to look after us, including finding clean loos along the way. The Dambulla Caves, some 150 metres above the road, presented a challenge, but with the help of the driver we found the best route up. The sight of so many buddha statues, including a 15-metre reclining buddha, was indeed worth the effort.
More fascinating views and a different ambience awaited us in Kandy, where we were again warmly welcomed by the staff of the Clingendael Hotel, half an hour’s drive away. Here we enjoyed spectacular views and a cool breeze from our veranda. We experienced the early morning ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth and an evening traditional dance show near the lake in a rather faded hall reminiscent of those I remember from my childhood in England.
Visits to a spice garden, a spectacular Hindu temple, botanical gardens and a tea factory were all included in our tour, which ended at the very relaxing Serene Pavilions on the west coast at Wadduwa for a few days of doing nothing. Our driver was due to leave us at this point, but a last minute request to visit Galle Fort meant he stayed with us for another day. An amazing new highway took us there with evidence of more road-building in progress and what a contrast from the roads we had experienced until then. But I think I was beginning to get used to the old roads and the coastal route back meant we could visit the turtle farm and see and hear about the effects of the tsunami. Talking to people about this terrible event was our most poignant memory as we headed for home.
View Cox & Kings’ holidays to Sri Lanka.
By Annabel | Published: April 23, 2013
Cox & Kings’ Katie Parsons was in Marrakech for a few days recently. Read her top tips for what to see, do, eat and stay.
Just a three hour flight from London, and Marrakech feels a whole world away. The narrow streets of the ancient medina are bursting with life, colour and smells at all times of the day, while the more modern Nouvelle Ville and Palmeraie are home to trendy boutiques, palatial hotels and wide palm tree-lined streets. The city makes for an ideal short break but with so much to do, what shouldn’t you miss?
Djemaa el Fna
The heart of the medina, Djemaa el Fna, is a hive of activity at all times of day. Early in the morning, vendors set up stalls selling fresh orange juice and dried fruits. Henna tattoo artists arrive later to line the edge of the square, alongside healers, snake charmers and men with chained Barbary apes. At dusk, the square becomes an open-air kitchen as cooks haul in carts setting up over 100 restaurants serving barbecued meats, salads, couscous and snails. All will want you to eat at their stand, but wander through and pick the one with lots of locals and join them in a tasty grilled skewer.
Surrounding the square are cafes and restaurants, all with roof terraces and views over the square. It’s a good spot to escape the non-stop activity and reward yourself with a mint tea while watching from above.
Haggling in the souks
Haggling over the price of goods is as much of an experience as the souks themselves. The warren of streets lead off the square and as you wander deeper, through shops selling leather, fragrant spices, colourful scarves, and shiny lanterns, it becomes increasingly maze-like but you can’t help but get lost. Supposedly, the covered souks are organised according to what they sell, so after passing rows of olives sellers, come the traditional musical instruments, teapot shops and butchers. It really is an assault on every sense.
The sellers expect you to haggle so start low and meet them somewhere in the middle. More than likely they’ll tell you their ‘final price’ is final, so if you’re not happy, walk away. If they want to sell it to you, they’ll call you back. If not, there will be somewhere else selling the same thing. Just watch out for donkeys, carts and motorbikes trying to share the same streets.
Marvelling at palaces and gardens
In the medina’s Mellah, the Jewish quarter, lies the Bahia Palais. Built in the 19th century, the palace and gardens was intended to be the greatest of its time, and a mix of Islamic and Moroccan styles. Just outside of the old city walls, in the new town, is the Jardin Majorelle. The botanical gardens and cobalt blue house were created in the 1920s by Jacques Majorelle and feature plants from all over the world. The design and vibrant colours of the garden still feel contemporary today. The French designer Yves Saint Laurent came across the garden in the 1960s with his partner, and eventually bought it in 1980. After his death, his ashes were scattered in the gardens and a memorial to him erected.
Relaxing in a spa
After a day in the souks, chances are you’ll be in need of some pampering. A visit to a community hammam is a weekly tradition for Moroccans: a chance to scrub, clean and soak themselves. There are plenty of hammams and spas in the medina but I recommend booking yourself a treatment in one of the new spa resort hotels in the Palmeraie. The Mosaic Palais Aziza & Spa opened in October 2012, and as well as a full range of massages and facials, a traditional body scrub and hammam should not be missed. It’s a real treat but you’ll feel revitalised and ready to face the souk sellers again.
Sleep in a riad
Hidden behind thick, heavy doors, the city’s riads are a haven away from the souks. Down narrow alleys, tucked away from view, you’ll definitely need to be shown where they are but once inside, the restored houses offer a peaceful place to rest and recuperate for a night. Something seemingly impossible when first arriving in the medina. Marrakech has hundreds of riads, ranging in size and standards. Riad Ilayka has seven rooms surrounding a traditional courtyard, with a fountain in the centre. Each room is different but all have been restored immaculately, some with beautifully painted wooden ceilings, others with elaborate four-poster beds and traditional furniture. The gazebo on the roof terrace is a lovely spot to watch the sunset over the city with a mint tea and the riad’s kitchen will serve a traditional Moroccan dinner in the courtyard. Really not to be missed.
Cox & Kings arranges holidays to Morocco.
By Annabel | Published: April 19, 2013
Valerie Porter was delighted to win some flights to Jordan with Cox & Kings. Read on to find out about her time in Jordan, from floating in the Dead Sea to exploring the ancient ruins of Petra.
I was extremely fortunate to win two return tickets to Jordan in a Cox & Kings competition. My husband and I were very excited to book a tour to revisit a country that we were so enamoured with, having been there a few years previously.
Two friends joined us on the tour, which took us from the capital Amman in the nort,h to Aqaba in the south, with a very knowledgeable guide. From a base in Amman, we went to the Dead Sea, known for its dense, salty mineral water. Here, we floated on the surface of the water and then covered ourselves in black mud, which was supposed to make us ten years younger!
We also visited Jerash, a wonderfully preserved Greco-Roman city of the Decapolis, where there is still much to discover. Our next hotel stop was at Petra, which we visited by candlelight and spent a whole day exploring. The wonderful Rose Red City “as half as old as time” is a must to see, one of the real true wonders of the world. We even managed to climb to the monastery, a very steep climb indeed – without the use of the many donkeys!
The next day we moved on into the desert, through Wadi Rum, made famous by T.E Lawrence. We moved by 4×4 to a desert camp, where we stayed for the night, dinner and breakfast were taken in a traditional Bedouin tent. This was certainly a highlight of our tour, as we watched dinner being cooked by fire in a hole in the sand and it was one of the most delicious meals we have ever had! We were also able to see the sunset and sunrise in a beautiful clear sky in almost total silence.
From there we went to Aqaba for a couple of days where the sun shone and we had some relaxing time on the beach.
Jordan is a country steeped in history, where you can still see a shepherd with a donkey and some sheep, just as you may have two thousand years ago. The people are extremely friendly and welcoming, but they do rely much on tourism. Due to unrest in the Middle East, they have seen a real dip in the number of visitors, but the country feels very safe and is definitely worth visiting. I urge tourists to go and discover this wonderful country for themselves. We hope that we may be able to return again ourselves someday…
View Cox & Kings’ Jordan tours.
By Michael | Published: April 18, 2013
Latin America Tour Consultant Marie-Louisa Lowther travelled to Peru for the second time, and discovered there was far more to ancient Peru than the Incas.
My second trip to Peru was a real eye opener. Apart from the fact that this time I was travelling in style as opposed to backpacking and living on a shoestring, I visited some little known places that made me realise that there is so much more to this fascinating country than the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu.
Don’t get me wrong, I do find the Incas fascinating. Being the most recent culture before the Spanish invaded, they are the culture we know most about, with many chronicles of their marvellous history being sent to Europe. However, it is in a way, purely through marketing that tourism in Peru has developed like it has. Little is known to the outside world about the ten or more centuries which preceded these people: the equally great Mochita and Chimu cultures.
Peru’s northern coast is home to some of the country’s greatest archaeological treasures, built by the highly-skilled pre-Inca people who once thrived in the region.
The Moche or Mochita people had an extremely long reign, from about 200 to 900 AD. They ruled through the time of the Nazcas, the Mexican Mayans and the Roman Empire. Although they had no writing system, a culture developed that was extremely sophisticated for its time, and is now known for its fine ceramics and masterful metalwork.
The Sun and Moon temples near Trujillo are the former Moche capital and one of the most important urban ceremonial centres of the pre- Inca societies. The site has only been excavated since 1991 and still has few visitors. The Moon temple is open to the public – three platforms and four plazas are surrounded by decorated adobe walls. The Sun Temple, which is under excavation, is possibly the largest adobe building in the world. In the plain between the two temples lies the urban area or old Moche, a series of structures that have remained covered by a think layer of sand and sediment.
For another fine example of the Mochita rule travel further north along the coast to the archaeological complex of ‘El Brujo’ which means ‘the wizard or shaman’. Its origins date back more than 5000 years and the site is very well preserved considering its age. It was used by shaman and even nowadays renowned witches of the region go there to evoke the spirits of their ancestors to treat illness and fight against evil spirits. Last year a 1,600 year old mummy ruler was discovered, tattooed and embalmed and buried with sacrificial slaves, animals and symbols of power.
Further up the coast still is the tomb of Lord Sipan, one of the great Moche rulers. A modern and majestic museum formed in the shape of a pyramid to represent the original tomb, has many original exhibits, each cleaned and restored to the minutest detail. Lord Sipan himself, who is believed to be one of the most important figures of ancient Peru, is buried in the museum and visitors can view his skeleton. The original tomb was badly looted, with many of the artefacts ending up in the hands of private collectors such as Enrico Poli, whose private museum in Lima is one of the most impressive in the world. Whilst some question whether such national treasures should be in a private collection, Poli claims that he os offering the chance to view the treasures, and if he had not bought them these important artefacts would end up abroad.
Subsequent to the Moche period was the Chimu Kingdom, the pre- Inca period. They ruled from the 9th century until 1450 when the Incas invaded. Chan Chan near Trujillo is the former capital of the empire, and consists of various adobe palaces spreading over 15 kilometres. Of them only the dragon or rainbow temple and the central Tschudi Palace can be visited. The temples are decorated with symmetrical wall drawings, which were ogirinally brightly coloured but now all the dye has disappeared. Excavations begun here in 1964 and are still under way. There is also a very good museum displaying artefacts discovered there including pottery and tools.
This is just the start. Visit Caral, the remains of one of the world’s oldest cities and the oldest city in the Americas, situated 3 hours north of Lima. Further north still, Kuelap has huge defensive walls and castles involving three times more material than the Egyptian pyramids, Leymebamba has its fantastic collection of pre- Inca mummies. Venturing slightly off the beaten track, such amazing ruins of ancient cities can be seen.
View Cox & Kings’ Peru holidays.