Back in June this year I visited the beautiful island of Sicily. My sister lives in Ragusa, an UNESCO World Heritage site, not far from the sea and so many beautiful places like Syracuse, Taormina, Merzamemi. But more about those in a future article.
Our first stop was Noto voted the Capital of Baroque, a beautiful town 40 km South of Syracuse, also an UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Porta Reale is the access to the historic center of Noto. It was built in 1838 with the arrival of King Ferdinand II of Bourbon in Noto. The door in neoclassical style was built with the typical golden limestone that was used in the construction of churches and palaces and which gives the buildings a yellowish hue.
Cathedralof San Nicolo is a Roman Catholic cathedral located on the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele and it’s the most important attraction in Noto. Its construction, in the style of the Sicilian Baroque, began in the early 18th century and was completed in 1776. The cathedral of San Nicolà is the most important place of worship in Noto and it is dedicated to San Nicolò of Mira.
Opposite the Cathedral, Palazzo Ducezio serves today as the city hall. Its construction started in 1746 by Vincenzo Sinatra who was inspired by the French castles of the epoque and was completed in 1830. Inside the palazzo you can visit the Hall of Mirrors which unfortunately was closed when we were there. The palace and the cathedral are the main attractions of the city and the place will leave any tourist mesmerized by the impressive Baroque architecture.
Just around the corner from the Cathedral, Palazzo Nicolaci is another popular spot in Noto. Built in 1736 as a private noble house, it belonged to the Nicolaci family, until it was partially sold to the government of Noto. The Baroque building has 90 rooms and some of them are opened to the public. The facade is decorated with opulent balconies with curvy wrought iron balustrades, decorated with statues of mermaids, sphinxes and winged horses. I was impressed by the ballroom in particular and the view of the Palazzo Ducezio from one of the balconies. It is opened to the public all year round and the entrance was 8 euros.
Overlooking Piazza XVI Maggio with its impressive façade, San Domenico Church is a must see for its beautiful Sicilian Baroque style.
If my pictures haven’t convinced I’m sure my vlog will! Thanks for watching and please subscribe.
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How it all started
A normal day at the office and upcoming extra days off giving us the chance to travel again! Great! But where?! All we wanted was to relax and pamper ourselves somewhere by the ocean but the closest tropical destinations from where we are, are at least five hours away by plane and mainly honeymoon destinations. We looked at each other across the monitors, and said at the same time: ‘Let’s go to the Maldives!’ And so we started planning – we had 2 days to find a nice hotel that wouldn’t break our bank accounts for the next year and we did….or at least thought we did. We decided for the 4* Vista Beach Retreat hotel on Hulhumalé Island – located in the south of North Male Atoll, close to the airport island Hulhulé.
Let the journey begin
The following night we met at the airport and we were both set and ready for our first trip together not knowing that was about to mark the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Finally, there we were with more than 2 hours at hand before take-off, strolling from one duty free shop to another. I must admit, The Airport is my addiction. The frenzy restless atmosphere, hectic passengers transiting, shopping, everybody eager to go places and meet beloved ones. The place that never sleeps makes me happy from the moment I set my foot inside. It’s a reaction, just like Pavlov’s dog, I anticipate and expect (not food) but another tick-off from my travel bucket list.
We boarded the plane and after a 5 hours flight and a 5 stars experience on board of Qatar Airway’s A350, we landed in the middle of the Indian Ocean – at Velana International Airport, also known as Malé International Airport.
During the flight, everybody is given a Disembarkation/Embarkation card that needs to be submitted to the immigration counter upon arrival, so make sure guys to have the hotel details and a pen handy for that. To enter Maldives, no pre-arrival visa is required but make sure you read the information about the passport requirements and visa on arrival issuance, before you travel. The whole immigration process took no longer than 10 minutes and as we only had our carry-on luggage, in 20 min after landing we were already outside looking for our driver, who of course, was running late. Luckily I had the hotel number and called them from the information point, but not so luckily – nobody picked up. Do you often tell yourself: It only happens to me?! ‘Cause I do. Damn my luck!!
After 10 minutes our driver FINALLY arrived and off to the hotel we went! Phew…
Expectations vs Reality
Palm trees, white sandy beaches, crystal blue water and a relaxing atmosphere was what we had in mind. Instead, we found a hotel that looked far from what we saw in the pictures. Now it made sense why the price was low compared to other resorts…My advice is, that if you’re going to the Maldives, skip Hulhumalé and go straight to the resorts. This island is still under construction, so expect it to be messy. It is a local island, bikinis are not allowed on Hulhumale Beach (we found out about it a little too late) and the only tourist/bikini beach was a 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel. This island is excellent for transit though, as it can be accessed by bus from airport, departures are every 30 minutes from 6 am to midnight and the fare is 20 MVR (approx. 2$).
So! There was no way we were going to stay there so I started looking for nearby island resorts. One important thing to note, is that there are some taxes (listed at the end of this post), which aren’t included in the final price if you don’t book directly through the hotel’s website. These taxes apply to meals and souvenirs as well so better do your sums in advance and avoid ‘surprises. I managed to book a room, and in an hour we were out of there and back at the airport where the Kurumba representative was waiting for us. Tired but happy, we boarded the air conditioned speedboat where we were served cold water and wet towels. Such a blessing! We spent the last minutes up on the deck admiring the tropical paradise that was rising in front of us as we got closer. Surrounded by the most bright blue crystal clear waters I’ve ever seen and whitest sandy beaches – the perfect image we envisioned when we planned this trip was taking shape! As the speedboat approached the docks the image depicted in front of us was even more surreal, a tropical paradise like those seen in Hollywood movies or the desktop wallpapers we all at least once daydreamed about .We again looked at each other and laughed: “This is what we deserve!”
Three days in paradise
Kurumba resort is situated on a small island of the North Malé Atoll, called an impossible name to remember (at least for me) Vihamanaafushi, just 10 min away by speedboat from the airport and it is the first ever resort in the Maldives set up in 1972 but once you are there you will never guess that it’s almost 46 years old.
A smooth check-in and the most delicious coconut sorbet I’ve ever had. We booked a twin Superior Room with breakfast included for three nights and this is how our budget trip suddenly became a luxury one. Everything looks impeccable and every single detail is taken care of. They clean the room twice a day and they provide daily complementary water for each guest.
Conveniently located just steps away from the white sandy beach and the blue ocean, our room was spacious and offered the perfect view from our cozy balcony. The bedroom led to a bright luxurious open bathroom complete with a washbasin, a glass-walled indoor shower, a free-standing bathtub and an open-air sand and stone-floored shower garden so you can see the sky and coconut trees while you relax away in your bath.
I really loved the fact that they produce their own coconut oil on the island and all the toiletries that they provide are made of fresh coconut oil. So cool, right? Not only did it smell delicious but they left our skin and hair incredibly silky smooth and soft. Did you know that ‘kurumba’ means ‘young coconut’?
If you’re in the mood for full relaxation, disconnecting from the world but with fast internet connection, this is the perfect place to unwind and Instagram all day long ;). It’s a small island but heavenly beautiful and it can be explored in 30 minutes. It offers all kinds of activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, water sports, sunset boat trips, fishing etc. There’s also a SPA on the island, a gym and a kids club. We preferred to lounge on the beach during the day reading, sunbathing or swimming.
After dinner we would watch the sunset and have long walks on the beach.
There are 8 restaurants on the island so there’s plenty to choose from that will satisfy even the pickiest eater.
Thila – Contemporary Restaurant & Grill.
Vihamanaa – We had an excellent buffet breakfast included at this restaurant and I must give Kurumba a big thumbs up for it as it was delicious and varied every day.
As we only had breakfast included, we had to pay for lunch and dinner and the average price for one was approximately 45$ per meal (tax included).
There are also 4 bars on the island but our favorite was Kandu – an open-air pavilion with wide over-water deck with day beds and relaxing loungers. And here’s where we enjoyed our Maldivian nights with live music and delicious cocktails. If you ever visit Kurumba I recommend the Kurumba cocktail.
*The average cost of a cocktail with taxes included is 15$. I also recommend the Athiri Beach & Sunset Bar for (you guessed it right!?) a stunning sunset.
Kandu Bar @Kurumba Maldives
Maldives weather in December
It is said that rainfall is mostly concentrated on the first half of the month, and most tourists opt to visit Maldives towards the end of December to experience fine tropical weather and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s here. Even though rainfall was expected on 13 days of the month we were lucky, and while we were there it rained just for half a day on our last day on the island. But that did not keep us inside our room. There is something magical about the tropical rain I must admit, I had a nice swim before it really started pouring and then we just enjoy the view in total silence from under the sun umbrella.
We played pool the rest of the afternoon, shopped for souvenirs and enjoyed a cocktail at the bar for the last time.
Overall, the service at Kurumba was excellent, all staff around the island were so friendly, helpful and went out of their way to make each customer feel welcome. No wonder the list of awards of this resort is so long that I cannot list here, but please check it out.
A big plus of Kurumba is the location, as it’s really close to the airport so you will not have to worry about missing your flights due to bad weather, which can delay seaplanes and boat transfers from resorts located further away from Velana International Airport.
We were sad to leave this corner of paradise and wished we could have enjoyed more of this breathtaking tropical island. We left on the morning of the 18th of December wishing we returned soon…Until next time, Dhanee!
Vihamanaafushi – Kurumba Resort is 15 minutes away by boat and the fees, at the moment I’m writing this article are:
shared airport transfer: Adult/37.50 USD; Child/18.75 USD per way;
private airport transfer: Adult/75.00 USD; Child /7.50 USD per way.
Allow yourself to dream, dare to desire and believe that your dreams will become (and they will be your) reality one day.
The main destination for tourists all over Thailand are the Phi Phi Islands and if you’re traveling for the first time to Phuket they are a must! A Phi Phi Island day tour is the most popular activity in the region and of course, being on my bucket list, we went and explored the town in search for my dream trip offer. We got a good deal from one of the many travel agencies in Karon, and the following morning we were picked up from the hotel. After a short drive, we reached the marina where we met our guide and boarded the speedboat, that took us around the amazing Phi Phi archipelago. The most amazing trip!
Tip: If you’re planning a speed boat trip, make sure not to have the biggest breakfast in the world as the ride it’s pretty bumpy, and if you usually get motion sickness don’t forget your pills! If you choose to sit outside on the speedboat, a hat, a sarong or towel, and sunscreen lotion to protect your skin from the sun are a must. Trust me, you don’t want to get burned and spend the rest of your holiday hiding from the sun!
After approximately an hour we could finally see them – rising proudly from the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea, the limestone cliffs of Phi Phi Islands, were giving way to white powdery beaches and luxuriant green jungles further inland.
Our first stop was at Maya Bay for swimming and snorkeling. The place became popular after The Beach was filmed there in 1999. Unfortunately because it is so stunning and famous many boats ferry thousands of tourists in and out each day. You must know that if you enter the bay on your own, there is a National Park entry fee of 400 baht but this fee was included in the price of our tour.
If only it wasn’t so crowded… In order to accommodate the high volume of tourists that come and go, each boat is given 40 minutes to station in the bay, therefor we only had a short stroll through the lush jungle and a refreshing swim in the emerald green waters. Soon after, off we sailed towards the next famous gem of the Phi Phi archipelago – Ko Phi Phi Don.
On the way there we made a stop at Pileh Bay, another lagoon where the water was turquoise crystal clear, and which probably is a good spot for snorkeling but we did not get to swim there. Soon after, we slowly floated by and admired the spectacular rock formations around Viking Caves – famous for its mysterious wall paintings that indicate the arrival of clipper ships hundreds of years ago. It was interesting to see scaffolding at the base of the cave, built by people who live there that are protecting the resident sparrows. This sparrows apparently are so special because of the type of nest they create, which are a delicacy in the Chinese cuisine (most famous is the bird nest soup) and can be sold for up to $100!
At Monkey Beach we had the chance to feed the macaque monkeys, the only inhabitants there, and take some nice picture. As much as you want to touch them (like I did, ’cause I just adore them) you should not, as they are wild animals and their bite is quite dangerous. Don’t worry though, they are really friendly and used to tourists feeding them. Just be aware that they are little ‘thieves’, so you better leave your belongings on the boat.
We had lunch (included in the tour) on the main island of the Ko Phi Phi archipelago – Phi Phi Don, which hosts the bohemian town of Phi Phi Islands and it’s the only island in the group with permanent inhabitants. This picture postcard island was my favorite and even if I’ve already been there twice I can’t wait to go back. I highly recommend it! It’s like you’re part of the best wallpapers on the internet.
Surrounded by stunning turquoise waters, colorful marine life and many coral reefs this place is not only great for diving and snorkeling but it’s the perfect spot to unwind. Long-tail boats putter between these islands, their schedule-less movement and the laid-back tropical atmosphere makes time stand almost still here …waiting for you to relax and ‘catch up’ with the stress, hassle-free existence of the island.
Here are some link where you can check itineraries and prices:
Kao Phing Kan is an island situated in Phang Nga Bay northeast of Phuket it’s part of Ao Phang Nga National Park. About 40 metres (130 ft) from the shores of Khao Phing Kan lies a 20-metre (66 ft) tall islet called Ko Ta Pu . Since 1974, when they were featured in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, Khao Phing Kan and Ko Ta Pu have been popularly called James Bond Island.
Now that we know why this island is so popular – let me tell you all about the trip! If you’ve seen all the James movies and you call yourself a big fan of the series than maybe, just maybe this might make sense to you. For me personally, the place was too crowded.
We booked a half day trip through Phuket Andaman Tours in Karon, and we paid around 1500 THB per person. The tour includes transfers from the hotel and back, lunch and light refreshments on board.
We were picked up from the hotel in the morning and after around an hour drive we reached Ao Po Pier where, eager to discover one of the most famous islands in south east Asia, we embarked on a cruise boat.
We stopped at Panak Island for canoeing into the deep bat cave which can be a bit a scary especially if you’re afraid of bats and you’re claustrophobic. The cave ceilings are so low in some areas that you have to basically lay down on the canoe to fit in.
Our second stop was at the Hong Island famous for its limestone rock, where we canoed around the lagoon which is spectacular! We admired the scenery while our guide was telling us all about this places. I was really impressed by his knowledge and he even made me a flower out of a dry palm leaf that I brought home with me as a souvenir. How sweet of him…
After a buffet lunch served on board, we continued our journey towards James Bond Island.
Now due to its precarious position – big on the upper part and relatively slim at the bottom the island is under national park protection and as a result no boats of any kind are allowed to go too close to it. We were transferred to long-tail boats that took us to the island and once we reached the small beach on Koh Ping Ghan we were told that we had to pay an entry fee (which wasn’t mentioned anywhere) in order to visit the island for which we only had about 20 minutes to enjoy(?!) the view. The place was so crowded that you couldn’t even get a single picture with just the islet! To be honest I think the place is a bit overrated.
On our way back we stopped at Naka Island for some swimming and sunbathing and shortly after, we reached Phuket where our driver was already waiting for us.
We ended the day with a well deserved Thai massage and a delicious dinner.
If only I could spend my life traveling… See you next time! Sawadee ka!
One of the places on my bucket list I had to tick off, was Thailand. Because who hasn’t seen and fallen in love with Phi Phi Island – that forbidden breathtaking paradise (and Leonardo Di Caprio) in the famous The Beach – Official Trailer ? I know! I know! Such a cliche! But still, the island is stunning (though overcrowded for my taste) and for any travel enthusiast, it’s a must see!
Let’s begin with the planning.
You will most probably require a visa for Thailand and if you don’t, then lucky you! Your passport must be valid for more than 6 months from date of entry and you must hold a return ticket. Don’t forget to bring one recent 4×6 photograph that you will need to attach to the Visa Application upon arrival. I will leave a link here with the visa requirements for The Country of Smiles.
How to get there?
We booked our tickets with Qatar Airways and I recommend subscribing to their newsletter for offers but there are several carriers operating this destination and you can find good deals if you book in advance.The flight to Phuket is around 7 hours from Doha, and there are 2 flights per day. I personally prefer to plan my own transport and hotel and it works out cheaper than booking through a travel agency. For hotels I use either Agoda or Booking.
Sawadee ka! Welcome to Phuket!
Once landed in HKT – Phuket International Airport getting to the hotel it’s piece of cake! In case you haven’t booked a shuttle prior to your arrival, there are lots of taxis outside the airport waiting for the perfect customer ;). We paid 1200 THB ($30) for approximately 1 hour drive from Phuket International Airport to our hotel in Karon Beach.
Tip: If you are a good negotiator, this is the time to showcase your skills 😉 if not, just try! Everybody does it, and you can get away with half off of the initial price on anything starting from day trips, clothes, souvenirs or taxis! I guarantee that by the end of your trip you will be a pro!
We booked a pool villa at Mandarava Resort & Spa a hillside resort, overlooking Karon Beach (along with Kata Beach are the best places to be in Phuket in my opinion), that offers a spectacular sea view while being immersed in a lavish greenery heaven.
Located on the west side of Phuket, facing the Andaman Sea and stretching between Patong at the north and Kata Beach at the south, Karon Beach is the third longest beach on the island. Renown for water sports, here the sea is calm during the dry season, it’s not crowded and is much cleaner and tranquil than the (in)famous Patong.
We spent the first days lounging on the beach or by the pool, indulging in Thai cuisine, getting massages twice a day (who wouldn’t for 300 THB/hour?!) and visiting the island. Oh Paradise!
Getting around the island is really easy and affordable – it’s up to you if you prefer the more conventional air conditioned taxis or the traditional tuk-tuk. But most of the beach resorts are small enough to walkaround and most hotels are located close to the beach, restaurants and shopping areas.
Ready to explore some islands, we booked a few day trips from one of the many travel agencies in Karon village but all about that in a future post!
Tip: I highly recommend checking more than one travel agency in town for better deals. Most of them have special offers or are ready to bargain, especially if you’re a group, and from my experience I guarantee it could be even half price than what hotel are offering.
Sa-wat dee (hello & goodbye)
Khop koon (thank you)
Gee baht? (how much) Essential for all the shopping you’ll be doing, or when bargaining with tuk-tuk drivers.
Yoo tee nai…? (where is…) Extremely useful when lost!
Mai ow (don’t want) Useful for refusing persistent street vendors.
Khor tort (sorry)
Neung, song, saam, see, haa, hook, jet, baat, gow, sip (one to ten)
Lot noi dai mai? (can you make it cheaper? ) Try this handy phrase when shopping. By speaking a little Thai you might just get a better discount.