“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” Benjamin Disraeli
Eid al-Adha (also known as ‘Greater Eid’) is fast approaching at the end of this month. Muslims observe and celebrate this second main festival in the Islamic calendar, commemorating Prophet Abraham’s (also known as Ibrahim) willingness to sacrifice everything for God including his own son, Ismael. At Eid al-Adha, Muslims make a special effort to pray and go to the mosque to listen to a sermon, they may wear new clothes and visit family members and friends.
For most expats Eid al-Adha means a few extra days off work which is the ideal time for a little mini-break. With the UAE ideally located to travel to many different countries within a few hours flight or drive the forthcoming Eid holiday is the perfect time to explore a new destination or re-visit an old favourite. Here’s five of my favourites places and hotels that we have visited on our expat travel adventures to date, all within a four/five hour journey from Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
Sri Lanka – This charming tropical paradise is only a mere four hours flight from the UAE. Known as the Wonder of Asia, Sri Lanka is steeped in history, a land once ravaged by civil war that is nowadays a magnet for international tourists who flock to the island to enjoy its diverse qualities. The quieter North allows visitors to immerse themselves in the rolling hills of the tea plantations while leopards and herds of elephants can be spotted in one of the many centralised nature reserves.
Head down South to enjoy the coconut palm fringed beaches, crashing surf, coral reefs and incredible sunsets. Galle is a must to explore the old town that’s jam packed with little shops, art galleries and cafes. Ride in a colourful tuk tuk and then grab a surfboard to ride the waves. Take a boat trip to spot the world’s biggest mammal, the blue whale off of the coast of Mirissa, a mind-blowing experience that’s totally worth the required early start.
My top hotel pick – W15, Weligama
W15 is a stylish beachfront boutique hotel located right on the shore of Weligama surf beach. Small and luxurious, this little slice of contemporary elegance offers guests a choice of ten stylish modern en suite rooms, delicious dining options and attentive personal service that can only be offered in such small-scale surroundings.
Thailand – This diverse country has so much to offer from the bustling streets of Bangkok to the idyllic islands of Phi Phi and everything inbetween. Phuket has plenty of history and culture alongside the more sleazy Patong nightlife, tourist sights include the Big Buddha located on Mount Nagakerd overlooking Karon Bay, Chalong Temple (Wat Chalong) and the delightful Old Phuket Town.
Daily catamaran trips to the Phi Phi Islands leave from Chalong Pier and this is a must do. We visited Honeymoon Island, Ko Phi Phi Don known as Monkey Beach (Ao Ling) home to a colony of very cheeky Macaques, Koh Bida Nok and Maya Bay on Phi Phi Ley (the location of ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio). This final stop was a stunning stretch of white sand lined with brightly coloured long tail wooden fishing boats, amazing views of the Andaman sea and surrounding rock formations.
Bangkok is an incredible place, thrilling and mysterious, historic and yet modern all at the same time, super busy day and night. A medley of bright colours and constant traffic noise, partygoers and sightseers, street food vendors and busy markets. In complete contrast, it also has an air of sophistication with its fine dining scene and trendy rooftop bars along with its supersized air-conditioned malls, packed with designer shops. Bangkok literally has something for every traveller on every budget.
Koh Samui is a sun-filled paradise island with a more relaxed pace. The perfect place to chill and it attracts all sorts of travelers from backpackers to honeymooners, families and those seeking a healthy detox or training at a Muay Thai camp. Ride a motorbike, enjoy a Thai massage or dance the night away at a full moon party in Chaweng, it’s all possible in Koh Samui. Away from the beach resorts you can head in the mountainous jungle where you can hike, raft and zip line through the trees. Visit one of the many waterfalls, ride an elephant, visit Wat Phra Yai temple to see the golden Big Buddha statue. No trip to Samui is complete without seeing the South coast rock formations of Hin Ta (Grandpa) and Hin Yai (Grandma) which resemble male and female genitalia, seeing is believing.
My top hotel picks: Bangkok – The Oriental Residence Bangkok (ORB)
Koh Samui – Anantara Lawana Koh Samui Resort
The Oriental Residence Bangkok (ORB) is a sleek hotel nestled amidst leafy avenues on Wireless Road in the quieter embassy district of the city. The central location is just a stone’s throw from the Sukhumvit luxury shopping malls and the Ploenchit BTS Skytrain station. This award-winning hotel oozes charm and sophistication, it has an ageless charm that extends from the lobby to the suites. Tastefully decorated, no expense hads been spared, the suites are spacious, well equipped and extremely comfortable. Café Claire is a chic Parisian inspired venue in the lobby stylishly decorated in a monochrome theme. The Play Deck on the fourth floor houses the fitness centre and open air outdoor pool that has cityscape views.
The five-star Anantara Lawana Koh Samui Resort combines traditional Thai design with the highest quality modern comforts. Opulence and impeccable service go hand-in-hand at this resort, the rooms are immaculately decorated and comfortable. There’s a variety of rooms and villas available and if your budget allows go for pool access villa or spludge on one of the palatial seaview pool villas. The main restaurant and pool overlook the beach that’s accessed through well maintained gardens lined with coconut palms and tropical blooms. Anantara Lawana Spa offers a wide range of treatments including traditional Thai massages and there’s a variety of watersports as well as dive tours and diving certification.
Seychelles – With a year round tropical climate, turquoise clear waters, pristine deserted beaches and lush greenery, the Seychelles is quite simply paradise found just under five hours flight from the UAE.
If you are a beach lover this archipelago will tick every box with strip after strip of white sandy coves lined with palm trees and huge slabs of granite. Snorkelers and divers will love exploring the coral reefs and bright blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Island hopping by boat to explore the smaller islands is a must do, cycling on La Digue, where we encountered the Aldabra giant tortoises and visited the alleged most photographed beach in the world, was a trip highlight for me.
See the unique Coco de Mer and the black parrots on Praslin, don’t forget a glimpse into the island’s British Heritage in the capital Victoria and no visit would be complete without a visit to the Takamaka Rum Distillery. You can explore the whole island easily by car in a day and those who like to hike can take a walk through the vegetation to the secluded to Anse Major beach. Mother Nature has certainly blessed these islands with jaw-dropping natural beauty and if you looking for a picture postcard spot this is the place for you.
My hotel pick – The H Resort Beau Vallon Beach
A modern hotel in Beau Vallon that opened in 2015 offering guests a collection of villas and suites located right on the beach. With seven bars and restaurants, swimming pools, watersports, volleyball, table tennis, tennis court, gym, beach yoga and pilates and the beautiful Sesel Spa there’s plenty to keep even the most active guest entertained.
The Maldives – Seen as one of the world’s most desired holiday destinations the Maldives is another country that’s under five hours flight from the UAE. Velavaru Island (Turtle Island) is a 40-minute seaplane flight from the capital Malé, this is a fantastic experience in itself as you fly over atolls and land on the water. We stayed at the charming Angsana Velavaru located on Velavaru, a tiny secluded island lined with Angsana trees that you can circumnavigate in a twenty minute walk. We spent a week relaxing on the beautiful fine sandy beach, checking out the marine life, making cocktails and being pampered in the spa.
My hotel pick – Angsana Velavaru
Angsana Velavaru (part of the Banyan Tree group) offers guests a choice of luxury beachfront villas with outdoor bathrooms on the water’s edge and water villas with private infinity pools overlooking the coral reef that are accessed only via a boat. Traditional Maldivian cuisine is served alongside international favourites in the on-land restaurant and beachfront bar, Funa Restaurant offers diners a unique experience in a thatched roof hut perched on stilts above the water and there’s In-Ocean Azzurro as well as in-room and romantic beachside dining options.
An on-site fully equipped Padi Dive School offers thirty different diving spots to explore the South Nilandhe Atoll, you can even spot an elusive whale shark. There’s also snorkelling trips and plenty of watersports including canoeing, windsurfing, sailing and fishing. Award winning Angsana spa offers a range of treatments (including a rather fabulous full on couples treatment), there’s also a fitness centre and yoga classes on the beach.
Read more about the Maldives and Angsana Velavaru here
Oman – Ditch the airport queues and instead load up the car for the long drive from the UAE through the mountainous roads of Oman where several luxurious resorts await your arrival. Drive to the capital of Muscat and relax poolside at The Chedi, head inland and ascend Jebel Akhdar to one of the luxurious mountain retreats or plan a break at the Six Senses resort in Musandam.
Muscat offers a glimpse into the past, most visitors make their way to the historic ports of Mutrah to visit the corniche and souk. Old Muscat port is another popular spot as are the Royal Opera House and Grand Mosque.
Those choosing to head inland should stop off in the old capital of Nizwa to visit a traditional souk and explore the old fort before heading to the ancient town of Misfat that’s awash with lush greenery and a slower pace of life. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery atop Jebel Akhdar, go for a hike and discover abandoned villages and wadis or test yourself with a one of a kind Via Ferrata cave experience.
Musandam, the mountainous Omani peninsula separated from the rest of the country by the UAE, is the ideal spot to cruise on a traditional wooden Dhow. Stunning jagged coastline gives way to inlets called khors, you are very likely to spot pods of dolphins swimming and playing alongside the boat. Diving and snorkelling trips are very popular in this area too due to the abundance of marine life.
My hotel pick – Alila Jebel Akhdar
This mountaintop resort not only has the most spectacular views but is a beautifully designed hotel inside and out. It’s luxurious with a traditional style that reflects the property’s unique location. The resort embraces the local culture, the facilities and cuisine are first-rate, the service is impeccable and the hotel is fully committed to sustainability and eco-tourism.
Fancy staying nearer to home, here’s my top picks for Eid staycations in the UAE. The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi offers old school Arabian luxury and amazing spa treatments at affordable summer rates. For a taste of quintessential British hospitality in Dubai check into Dukes Dubai located on the Palm Jumeirah. Whether you decide to have a staycation in the UAE or travel further afield this coming Eid-al-Adha, I wish you safe and happy travels 😉
All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2017. All rights reserved.