5 REASONS WHY TRAVELLING SOUTHEAST ASIA IN THE ‘LOW SEASON’ IS AMAZING!

 

If you hear the phrase “wet season” and shiver, you’re not alone. Many people who’ve not experienced the region run (or fly) in the opposite direction at the thought of massive rainstorms eating away at their beach time.

But wet season also translates to ‘low season’, and savvy travellers know there are some major benefits to travelling anywhere off peak. As long as you’re aware, and take a few basic precautions, the pros of heading to this region during the low time of year can greatly outweigh the cons.

 

5 REASONS WHY TRAVELLING SOUTHEAST ASIA IN THE ‘LOW SEASON’ IS AMAZING!

  1. IT’S WAY LESS CROWDED

There’s a reason tens of millions of people flock to Southeast Asia every year; it’s awesome. The downside is you can be wrestling and jostling with literally thousands of people at some of the ‘must do’ attractions. One of the biggest benefits to travelling in the off-peak season means you have more time and more space to comfortably explore. Imagine visiting places like Angkor Wat and having to queue, shuffle and take photographs over a sea of people. Imagine trying to take a relaxing holiday on the famously beautiful Thai beaches, only to find everything is booked and crossing the beach is like crossing Times Square in New York. Low season travel helps you avoid some of this touristy chaos so you can really get immersed in the unique places on offer.

 

  1. IT’S WAY CHEAPER

As the crowds thin out, the locals start vying for the remaining travellers’ attention, which means better rates and better deals across the board. If you’re travelling on a budget you can guarantee you’ll stretch that ‘dollar’ a lot further. While the biggest wins are with Airlines and Tour operators, you will also benefit from cheaper accommodation and even food. Mmmm Thai food. Sorry, what were we saying?

  1. MORE LOCAL FESTIVALS

The world doesn’t end just because there are fewer tourists, the low season is still a busy time for the locals. With a range of notable festivals celebrating Buddhist Lent (July – October), the crucial wet rice cultivation cycle and boat racing (September), there are some amazing opportunities to experience fascinating cultural events first hand. Get swept up in the colourful celebrations, it won’t cost you any extra and can result in some of the most memorable experiences.

 

  1. SMALLER GROUPS ON TOUR

This means more flexibility for interesting side excursions, more one-on-one time with your Tour Leader and a generally a more personal experience. You’ll have more opportunities for authentic local encounters as Guides find it easier to accommodate smaller groups for village visits and dining in local restaurants.

  1. THE WEATHER…. IT’S NOT ALL RAIN!

To address the most obvious concern, yes, it will rain. However, it doesn’t rain the whole time and you will still get yourself a tan! At the height of low season (June – September) you can expect a cloud burst most days, however these arrive like clockwork, mostly in the afternoons, and often finish as quickly as they started. With such predictability, it’s easy to plan your daily excursions around them. You may even begin to welcome the rain as cool relief from the heat of the day. The extra rainfall quickly transforms the landscape from the yellowy-brown hues of the dry season to a beautiful verdant green.

 

SO WHEN IS THE LOW SEASON IN SOUTHEAST ASIA?

There are varying opinions about when it starts, but generally June to September is considered the ‘low season.’

HOW TO MANAGE THE RAIN

As with travelling anywhere, being adaptable, prepared and having the right attitude can make the difference between enjoying yourself or not!

  • Pack light loose breathable clothing and of course a quality waterproof layer is key
    • You can buy an umbrella on almost every corner so don’t worry about packing this
    • Mosquito repellent is vital, as there are a more around at this time of year!
    • Allow a bit more time with your travel plans to compensate for any delays
    • You’re going on holiday, crack a beer, relax and enjoy yourself!

 

Have we wetted your appetite for the “off season”? Check out our insane Asia specials!

http://www.statravel.co.za/travel-asia.htm

Why travelling solo doesn’t suck.

 

For every adventure in the world, there are as many different travel styles and preferences. Generally, though, the three most prominent ways people prefer travelling is: with family, friends, or individually. Of these travelling styles, people tend to veer toward travelling in packs, with people they know.

I get it – the world can be a big, scary place and it is always comforting to be with someone you know and trust when venturing out into the great unknown. Another perk to travelling with friends from back home is that you will always share those memories together, for the rest of your life. I still chat about my Mongolian travels with the other three guys who travelled with me. There is no doubt that travelling with mates is awesome – and to some degree, safer.

But, one should not discount the art of travelling solo.

Barring all the obvious “pitfalls” that people will point out about travelling alone, to a large extent, people are generally nervous to put the unspoken issue to the test: can you rely on yourself to be okay in the world? The first time you leave home alone, it can be scary.

There are, however, different types of individual travel.

 

  1. Travelling individually, within a

Think Contiki, where, whether you’re a single traveller or not, you’ll be in the company of 18 to 35 year olds from all over the world. Contiki has plenty of group activities where you’ll get to know your tour mates — usually like-minded people who love to travel and have a good time. This is an ideal option for anyone who’s nervous to set off on an adventure truly on their own, which provides company and group experiences all in one. Contiki also provides “Me Time” on all of their adventures, so if you are keen for a bit of “alone time” away from the group, you can explore the “truly solo” travel bit on your own in a comfortable context.

  1. Travelling solo – and I mean solo

If you’ve got the cojones, you can set off on a worldly exploration just you and your trusty backpack. That’s the most “extreme” of the individual travel styles.

When I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, en route to do my Dive Masters course on Koh Tao, I had to catch a train to catch a ferry to the island. The problem was that the long distance train station was not at the airport, nor was there an obvious link to it. Walking out of the airport onto the roads at about 10 pm, I vaguely tried to follow the other tourists and the general flow of people towards, what I hoped, was the train station. Walking underneath dimly-lit highway bridges at night, carrying all of your worldly belongings, unsure if you are heading in the right direction and not having anyone else to share that feeling with, can be quite an experience. I made it in the end, with several backtrackings and quizzical staring at signs, trying to work out what “train station” was in Thai.

This may sound like a minor accomplishment, but it has a knock-on effect. The discovery that you actually will be okay when you are by yourself is empowering, not just in your immediate environment and context, but the rest of your life.

Travelling solo in this way, you learn to rely on yourself because you have to. Most people could do with this confidence boost, as we often play things safe in life knowing that we can fall back on the expertise and help of others. While there is nothing wrong with that, the ability to back yourself in a decision regarding something as small as which direction to turn down a road in a foreign country, can make a world of difference in your life in general. I know it did for me.

I’ve travelled seriously solo and individually within a group with Contiki, and both styles are great albeit much easier and cheaper with Contiki. It just comes down to your own personal preference.

The magic of travelling is that you could have an identical experience with anybody, but it would affect you differently. Travelling solo, in whichever way, you are pushed out of your comfort zone, and driven to interact and engage with new people. Some other benefits are: you are on your own schedule, and are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want; you can be whoever you want to be; and your experiences are your own.

In addition, the amount of new things you’ll learn, both about yourself, and your surroundings, will be invaluable.

Our top Thailand tips for first-timers  

 

 

Thailand as a holiday destination has long been a firm favourite for South Africans of all ages, with its popularity having increased significantly over the past few years. There are many reasons that contribute to Thailand’s appeal: the beaches, the nightlife, and the affordability aspect, to name but a few. We covered these elements and broke down the various options for you in a previous post (include link to “An Insider’s Guide to the Ultimate Thailand Trip” blog post.)

Top tips for anyone planning a trip to Thailand for the first time

In this post, Miriam Schreiner, store manager at STA Travel in Thailand, shares more top tips with us which’ll come in handy for any preparing to visit Thailand for the first time.

Miriam’s essential packing tips for Thailand

#1. Pack light. Unless you go hiking up in Chiang Mai or Laos in December/January, it is pretty much hot all the time and all over. It also doesn’t really get cool at night. Packing one light jersey and one pair of long pants will be more than enough. The chilliest you’ll get will be from the air conditioning in busses, restaurants or hotels.
Thailand is also a great shopping destination so there are plenty of opportunities to stock up cheap clothes. Besides packing light, be sure to pack your swimming costume, sun screen and some mosquito spray for the evenings.
With those “wardrobe essentials” you’ll be good to go!

Any other NB info South Africans should be aware of when planning their Thailand trip?
“Thailand is well known for its sex tourism and you will find it everywhere. There are many areas where you’ll find ping pong shows, strip clubs, prostitutes and all that goes with it. Go out and have fun, but be watchful and don’t get too carried away.
Lady Boys are extremely common in Thailand. It’s not a myth, it’s true. So look closely when you are interested in a lady. If rejected, Lady Boys can get quite aggressive.
Generally there are a lot of scams going on around Thailand, particularly around the tourist areas.

If you find yourself in Bangkok along your Thailand trip, be careful with Tuk Tuk drivers as they often offer to take you around the city for 20 THB (which is close to nothing) to show you the sights. In reality, you get driven to different shops or travel agents where you will get pressured into buying something. For many things in Thailand, you can negotiate the price, but don’t get too aggressive when doing so – especially in the crowded tourist areas where vendors can become violent in response to aggression. Rather step away, and go get what you want somewhere else.
Be sure to explore our Thailand destination hub http://www.statravel.co.za/thailand.htm for more. We’ve got many sweet Thailand packages (no reference to lady boys at all, we swear) so be sure to check out all of our options when it comes time to planning your ultimate Thailand trip.

 

The USA – A Destination for all Seasons

The United States of America is a large and marvelous place which bustles with holidaymakers throughout the year. The reason for its mass tourist appeal is that the country fairs well through all seasons, making it an ideal holiday destination all year round. America’s large size plays to the traveller’s advantage when it comes to weather: it’s always perfect somewhere in the USA. While the main holiday season is, naturally, summer, the USA has so many sights to see and activities to enjoy during any season.

If you’re a fan of winter and the snow, there’s a huge variety when it comes to where to go for skiing and snowboarding. Colorado is the obvious choice, with top resorts such as Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge offering some of the best conditions in the world. If those ski destinations are a bit out of your budget, Heavenly and Squaw Valley around Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border, or Park City and Snowbird in Utah offer ideal ski conditions that won’t break the bank. In the eastern states, Killington and Stowe in Vermont are great options, and for experts who prefer the backcountry, there is nowhere better than Jackson Hole in Wyoming. The ski season generally lasts from the end of November to early May, but conditions may vary depending on where you are and the amount of snowfall. There are enough ski resorts throughout the USA to suit any budget and itinerary – it just comes down to personal preference.

In the summer, it’s all about the beach and the surf in the US. California is naturally the big name on the American surfing scene with some incredible wave action on the beaches around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Malibu and San Diego. When it comes to the ultimate surfer’s paradise, nothing beats Hawaii, with the beaches of Waikiki and North Shore on Oahu attracting everyone from beginners to experts. Florida’s shores are popular surf spots too, and less well known is the coast of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, which offers some of the best winter surfing around.
In a country as vast as America, it can feel like each state has its own climate. Where sub-zero temperatures dominate New York during the winter, the Florida Keys will be enjoying the warmth of the sunshine. Winter in California’s Death Valley should almost be referred to as “summer” because the region can hit an almost unbearable 50°C, while the hard-core skiers in the Rockies face winter temperatures well below freezing. Don’t let that put you off though. It all comes down to thorough preparation before you depart for your trip. By reading up on which part of the USA you will be visiting, you’ll be able to get a clearer understanding of weather patterns for that area at that specific time, which will help you better prepare for any weather conditions that might come your way.

If you’re planning a trip to the USA, here are a few general tips to bear in mind to ensure that the seasons don’t catch you off guard.

An umbrella is a great idea if you plan to explore the northwestern Pacific corner because you’ll get wet if you don’t. It rains a lot in Washington and Oregon, but this won’t stop you having fun and seeing the best each city has to offer.  If you plan on hitting the California or Florida coasts in the summer, or are heading to Hawaii at any time of the year, make sure you pack a high factor sun block. You’ll also need it for skiing the Rockies in winter (November to April) where the altitude makes the sun’s rays that much more dangerous – especially when the rays reflect off of the snow. Late summer and early autumn means hurricane season for the Gulf Coast, Florida and some of the East Coast too, so bear this in mind when planning your trip. Best pack a waterproof, just in case. In the winter months, it’s a wise idea to pack thick jackets and add on the layers of clothing when you head outdoors.

While the seasons don’t always arrive in uniform, and some areas in America experiencing extreme weather conditions all year round, if you plan your trip properly and are well-prepared, you should be able to see the country at its best – no matter what Mother Nature might send your way. There’s always something amazing to see or adventure to be had in the USA during every season.

http://www.statravel.co.za/travel-america.htm

 

Fall in love with Latin America

 South America has long been a firm favourite for South Africans not only because of the affordability aspect, but because of the variety it provides all travellers, regardless of travel style and preferences.

If culture, adventure and the outdoors is your vibe, South America should be at the top of your bucket list!

If the beach and good vibes is your thing, Brazil is the place to be. From the festivals and favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the steamy trails through the Amazon rainforest, Brazil is the big daddy of South America. One of the biggest tourist attractions in Brazil is Rio Carnival which is held before Lent every year. The first festivals of Rio date back to 1723 and has grown immensely since then. The typical Rio carnival parade is filled with dancers, floats and adornments from numerous samba schools from around Rio, with around 2 million people lining the streets as part of festival celebrations each year. The vibe and energy at the carnival is second to none. Keen to experience Rio Carnival first hand?  There are trip options that ensure you’re covered with guides, group escorts to the hottest street parties, Sambadrome Parade tickets, and daily pre-carnival parties.

Outdoor enthusiasts, nothing can beat immersing yourself in all the Amazon rainforest has to offer. Be it watching animals in their natural habitat or spending time admiring the breath taking sunsets, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this outdoor wonderland.

Looking for the ultimate photo opportunity? Look no further than Salar de Uyuni (most commonly known as the Bolivian salt flats) – the world’s largest salt flat! It’s the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desert-like, 11,000 square kilometre landscape of bright-white salt, rock formations and cacti-studded islands. You’re unlikely to find any wildlife around the salt flats, but you’re bound to find many a pink flamingo. The Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/08/03/bolivia-salt-flats-photos_n_4689867.html put together a gallery of some of the most magical photos taken of this earthly wonder.

If this has got you itching to take epic pics of your own, STA Travel has an 11-day Bolivian Discovery trip which will expose you to awe-inspiring geography, cities rich in colonial history and indigenous culture. From La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, travel to the crest of the Andes and the middle of nowhere for three days of incredible off-road exploration of the Uyuni Salt Flats.

Fancy a fiery tango and a football game? Best to plan a trip to Argentina. Be it the local championship, South American Champions League or just a friendly match – football in Buenos Aires is a big deal. Locals and visitors alike look for any reason to watch a match live. Every week Milhouse run a trip to the stadium to see Boca Juniors, River Plate or the National Team. While you’re in town, head on out with locals for a night of fine dining and signature Argentinian tango performance. Seeing the passion of the dancers will blow you away and have you yearning to learn the tango for yourself.

From jungles & rainforests, to volcanoes, beaches, cool coffee plantations and even cooler locals, Costa Rica is a haven for discovery. Discover the rainforest on a Tirimbina chocolate tour; raft the rapids on the Sarapiqui River; set sail on an awesome boat trip to spot many dolphins, whales, sea turtles & birds; and SO much more, all of which form part of Contiki’s really cool 15 day Costa Rica unplugged trip which includes some incredible turtle excursions.

If “getting there” is stressing you out, worry not, because you’ve got options. One ideal option is LATAM, Latin America’s largest airline (with the region’s most complete network.) From 3 October 2016, they will be flying passengers between Johannesburg’s O.R Tambo International Airport and São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport, three times a week. The flights between Johannesburg and São Paulo will be operated on their technologically-advanced Boeing 767-900. The aircraft features 191 seats in Economy Class and 30 in Premium Business. Premium Business passengers and passengers on qualifying oneworld tiers will have access to over 650 VIP lounges around the world through the oneworld partnership, offering you the chance to relax with a shower, catch up on business, or sample excellent cuisine before exploring over 1000 destinations in more than 150 countries. Not bad, right?

When it comes to immersing yourself in Latin America, what is outlined here is not even the tip of the iceberg. There really is so much to see and do on the continent, it’s just a matter of deciding what most floats your boat. One thing that’s guaranteed, though, is that no matter how you choose to explore the continent, you’re bound to fall in love with Latin America.

http://www.statravel.co.za/travel-latin-america.htm

 

 

 

Thai(sland) Hopping

 

Thailand as a holiday destination has long been a firm favourite for South Africans of all ages, with its popularity having increased significantly over the past few years. There are many reasons that contribute to Thailand’s appeal: the beaches, the nightlife, and the affordability aspect, to name but a few.

Thailand really has so much to offer the holiday-goer. That said, how do you know where to start when planning your Thailand trip? Here’s a handy Thai(sland) hopping guide to the beautiful Southeast holiday destination.

Two of the main areas most popular among travellers are:

  1. The Gulf of Thailand
  2. The Andaman Sea

Both of these areas offer the option to hop around to some spectacular islands, and since there are regular ferries operating every day, it is a very appealing and affordable option for the economical traveller and backpacker.

 

The Gulf of Thailand

A rather large Gulf comprising of many islands (bordering the South of Thailand), the three main islands that feature on most tourist’s must-visit destinations are: Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan. The word “koh” translates into “island” and in this context, it introduces the name of each island in the Gulf.

  • Koh Samui is by far the largest island out of the three and is a central point for travelling to the other two. As the second largest island in Thailand (after Phuket) you will find sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and tourist resources in abundance across the island.
  • Koh Tao (which translates into “Turtle Island” due to its turtle outline and shape) is a mecca for scuba diving and snorkelling. When compared to the other two main islands, this island is a lot more rustic and tucked away in the gulf. Covering an area of about 21km², it is pretty easy to get around the entire island in one day, especially if you rent a scooter. Koh Tao is less developed than Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, but has become increasingly popular especially with the mid-20s backpacker crowd in search of relatively inexpensive scuba diving certification. While the main focus is diving due to the abundant fish life and close proximity of dive sites to the island (you can get to two dive sites in about 40 minutes) there is also some jungle hiking to be done in exploring the eastern side of the island, which is far less open to development due to the sloping geography. For those wishing to take part in a traditional Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) lesson, this is easily arranged and you will soon learn how hard it is to train in tropical heat.
  • Koh Pha Ngan is a popular destination for backpackers and partygoers. Probably most famous for their Full Moon Party, a monthly dance music festival set on Haad Rin Nok Beach which is scheduled every month at full moon. The event primarily features electronic music and attracts around 30,000 party-goers in a normal month who enjoy the tropical beach, party atmosphere and beach buckets filled with booze.

The Andaman Sea

Located on the west side of Thailand, the main destinations that tourists tend to visit are: Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Krabi. Technically, only two of those are islands, as Krabi is part of the mainland. But Krabi is a good place to visit nonetheless owing to the awesome Tonsai Beach and limestone rocks for those wanting to try out some rock climbing.

  • Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and easily accessible by plane. A great place to start any Thailand island trip. Patong Beach, located on the central west coast, is Phuket’s most popular (and often overcrowded) tourist area. Most of Phuket’s shopping and nightlife is found in Patong, an area that has seen substantial development recently.
  • Koh Pi-Phi is a tiny group of islands which occupy about 12.25km². It is a great place to experience true island lifestyle as there isn’t much else to do here but swim, dive, drink cocktails and soak up the sun.
  • Krabi is part of the mainland but is frequented just as much as the other islands. This is due to the famous Tonsai beach that is located just next to it. For the adventurous traveller, you can actually swim between these two beaches at high tide, using the slack-lines that are connected between two rocks over the ocean, or venture into the jungle for a bit of rock climbing with spectacular views.

 

There are many travel operators that offer great deals and packages to all of the above areas in Thailand. Contiki’s nine day Thai Island Hopper West will have you covering the Andaman Sea in all its glory, including the opportunity to watch the sunset over the Andaman Sea from the highest viewpoint on the island, as well as a day visit to the infamous “James Bond Island.” Their Thai Island Hopper East will ensure you don’t miss a beat across the Gulf of Thailand where relaxing to the max on pristine beaches will be the order of the day.

Wherever your Thai(sland) hopping adventure takes you, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the adventure, fun, and endless and breath taking coastlines this Southeast Asia destination has to offer.

 

Bucket list Bali  

 

Of all of the islands around the world, one of the most exquisite and diverse, has to be Bali. This Indonesian island is famous for its beaches, coral reefs, forested volcanic mountains, iconic rice paddies, vibey bars, and yoga and meditation retreats.

Bali is part of the Coral Triangle, which is an area with the highest biodiversity of marine species. You’ll find over 500 reef building coral species in this area. To put that into perspective, that is 7 times more than what you’ll find in the entire Caribbean.

With this much beauty and variety on one island, it really is no wonder why it was the ‘Love’ protagonist in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book-turned mega Hollywood blockbuster, Eat, Pray, Love.

While love might be one factor that leads you to Bali, each person has their own reason and desire for wanting to visit this one-of-a-kind Island delight, and Bali pretty much caters for every single one of those reasons.

If you’re a beach bum, Gili Trawangan needs to be on your bucket list. Reputed to be more beautiful than any of the other Gili Islands, its crystal clear waters and pure white sand will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into a dream. Dine on Indonesian delicacies and watch the sun set from your beach front hotel. If your dream is to dive, snorkel and sun worship to your heart’s content, Gili T is ideal. With some of the best diving in all of Indonesia, you’ll want to make the most of every minute here. Gili T also has one of the largest turtle populations in the Indonesian Islands and you’ll have the opportunity to see them in their natural habitat. It’s important to note that there are no cars or scooters on this island. The only way to get around is by foot, bicycles or on a horse carriage. Tours like Contiki’s eight day Bali Island Hopper will take you to Gili T (as well as Seminyak and Senggigi) and show you the best of Bali with an expert guide. The fact that they also provide pre-booked ferries for you to get from island to island, hassle free, is another bonus.

Surfers will revel in delight on Senggigi – an area which is very well known for its beautiful west facing beaches. How about a new kind of adventure in the form of taking a drive down to the southern end of the island to Kuta. For the surfing newbies, you’ll be pleased to know that while you’re checking out the surf breaks, you’ll have the opportunity to pick up some tips from the locals with a surf lesson at one of the pristine beaches or on a reef break where the fishermen paddle you out to the waves – no jet skis here!

For the adrenaline junkies, there is a wide range of dive sites with high quality reefs, all with their own unique attractions. Be careful to not get too lost in Bali’s beauty that you forget about safety. Many sites have strong currents and swell, so diving without a knowledgeable guide can be dangerous. If you do travel with Contiki, they have a “Me Time” option where you can opt to do a Diving Day Course (VIP Certified Dive Excursion or Intro Dive Day) or head off on a Snorkelling Day Trip around the Gili Islands. Safety and prep factor, sorted.

As if you needed any more convincing to add beautiful Bali to your bucket list, I hope this post has done the trick. Whether you’re in search of soul-healing, relaxation, adventure or fun, Bali has got you covered.