Travel Bucket List – 1 

Just like every other traveler, I also have a travel bucket list from watching Northern Lights in an Igloo Hotel in Northern Finland to roaming the skies of Bagan with a hot-air balloon. So here is my list with some essential information and tips which may be useful for travelers while planning their trips.

Myanmar: Hot Air Ballooning in Bagan

What to see in Myanmar: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake.

Time required: 10 days required if you are including domestic flights.

Visa: You need to apply for an e-visa here. It is only possible to enter Myanmar on an e-visa at Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw international airports; and at three Thai-Myanmar land border crossings Tachileik, Myawadi and Kawthoung.

When to visit: November to March is the high season.

Jordan: See Petra World Heritage Site at night

What to see: Enter through the Siq and get out from The Treasury – the most photographed part of the area due to its fame from Indiana Jones. Then you may hike up to a mountain to the monastery building. If you visit at night, you will feel the mystery of place by passing through hundreds of candles in Siq.

Time required: 1 day would be more than enough to see the historical site. However, if you’d like to go ahead and see Dead Sea and Amman itself, add one more day and make it a weekend trip.

When to visit: As it is generally hot in Petra, spring or autumn are the best times to visit Petra. If you’re there in summer, try to get out early morning before it gets hot and crowded.

How to get there: It is 4 hour drive from Amman Airport, however you can also take a taxi from airport to Amman bus station so that you can take a public bus to the historical site.

Where to stay: Wadi Musa area is just 10 minutes walking distance from Petra so you may want to stay there to be close.

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Petra by night – Photo credit: Susanahajer

Bhutan: See The Mysterious Land of the Thunder Dragon

What to see: It’s worth to see Bhutan’s landscapes and well-preserved Buddhist temples especially Takstang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery. Tiger’s Nest is built around a cave where the Indian guru Rinpoche meditated in the eighth century. Today, visitors reach the monastery after a two-hour climb that is not for the faint of heart.

Visa: Tourists(except Bangladesh,India and Maldives passport holders) must use a licensed Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners to pre-arrange their visa and book their holiday. A daily fee is also charged for each day of your stay. For most foreign tourists, it costs $250 a day during the high season, and $200 a day for the low season. However, the good news is that the visa covers most of the things and there is nearly nothing to buy in Bhutan.

When to visit: October to December is the best time to visit as the air is clear and fresh during this season.

How to get there: Druk Air is the only airline that serves Bhutan. Flights enter from Delhi, Calcutta and Kathmandu.

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Bhutan – Photo credit: Douglas J. McLaughlin (edited by Vassil)

Tanzania: Safari in Serengeti

When to visit: Wildlife viewing is good throughout the year but June and July are the best times as you may get a chance to see the great migration.

How to get there: Most safaris to the Serengeti start from the town of Arusha. The best option to get there is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport which is 46km away from Arusha. Arusha to Serengeti takes 8 hours by car but safari tours include other parks on the way so tour companies make it a day or two.

5 days safari tours including Serengeti and Ngorongoro start from 900-1000 Euros per person.

Japan: See Cherry Blossoms

When to visit: March to May is the perfect season to see cherry blossoms.

Time required: Kyoto offers more temples, history and things to do for tourists, so spending more time there than Tokyo is suggested. One can easily spend 2 weeks in these two but if you want to limit it, 4 days in Tokyo and 6 days in Kyoto would be sufficient.

Where to go: The capital Tokyo and the cultural centre Kyoto are the priorities even though there are more to see and discover in Japan. Mt Fuji is also a must! For 4 days in Tokyo:

Day 1: See the modern west

Day 2:  See the traditional east

Day 3: Take a day trip to Mt Fuji

Day 4: Tsukiji Fish Market, Imperial Palace and Shinjuku (also the best area to stay)

How to get there: Tokyo has two airports – Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND). Haneda is closer to the city so it would be the faster and cheaper option.

To go to Kyoto from Tokyo, take the shinkansen train from Tokyo Station. It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes (don’t take the slowest one called Kodama but the faster Nozomi or Hikari) to Kyoto and there are shinkansen every hour between Tokyo and Kyoto until 7:50pm.

Cambodia: Catch the breathtaking sunrise at Angkor Wat

Visa: You need to apply for an eVisa here.

Time required: 2 to 3 days would be enough to see Cambodia.

What to see: Visit archeological park and temples in the afternoon and enjoy sunset in Siem Reap. Enjoy the sunrise at Angkor Wat and take a tuk tuk (1 hour) to see Banteay Srei.

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Angkor Wat – Photo credit: Sam Garza (wikimedia)

Chile: Visit one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands – Easter Island 

What to see: It is one of the most remote places in the world. However, it is worth to go to see moai, colossal statues that were each carved from a single stone sometime between 1200 and the mid 17th century. Group tours are the most common way to explore the island.

When to visit: As it is on the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. There is Tapati Festival end of January to the start of February each year so you may want to consider planning the trip around these days.

How to get there: Take a 5 hours domestic flight from Santiago, Chile to Hanga Roa.

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Northern Lights in Finland – Photo credit: Timo Newton-Syms

See Northern Lights from an Igloo Hotel in Finnish Lapland

What to see: Of course the nature’s most spectacular light show, the Aurora Borealis in one of the world’s best locations to watch this beautiful show.

When to visit: From late August to April.

How to get there: You can get to Lapland from Helsinki or Tromso, Norway. The high speed train – Lapland Express which takes you to Rovaniemi  leaves from Helsinki on Saturdays at 09:30 and arrives at 17:45 the same day. The train back to Helsinki leaves on Sunday around 15:00 and reaches the capital at around midnight. More info can be found here.

Where to stay: There is a selection of places that have made it very easy to keep cosy and sleep well under the Aurorae on Visit Finland’s website.

What is your travel bucket item? Feel free to share yours in the comments below.

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Must Have Travel Apps in 2017

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Technology has revolutionized traveling and travel planning just like anything else in the last few years.  There are various mobile applications that makes your travel planning process easier and your travels more enjoyable. From flight and hotel booking apps to review apps which help exploration more fun, you have hundreds of options to choose from.

Here is my top list of mobile applications for planning trips, exploring the area and getting around. Just don’t forget to clean up your phone’s storage before your travels in order to avoid the unnecessary stress.

To Plan:

Booking.com:

Even though I generally compare prices of hotels from a few different websites, Booking.com is the only one when it comes to a mobile application. Easy to use and provides a messaging system with the hotel itself. Pretty competitive hotel rates if you are a Genius member too.

Airbnb:

If you like to stay away from touristic areas and find a remote place to stay, you may want to check out Airbnb.  Offering unique homes or rooms, you can rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 191+ countries.

Skyscanner:

As number of choices increase, the flight booking process gets more complicated. However with Skyscanner, you can compare the prices of many airlines from one destination to another. Also by selecting ‘Flexible (Everywhere)’ as a destination country, you can also decide where to go depending on the flight rates.

TripAdvisor:

I use TripAdvisor both as a meta search engine to find the best rate of a single hotel I’m searching for, or to read about the reviews of specific destinations and hotels. If you have a specific question like ‘how to get to X Hotel from the X Airport’, write it on forums and you will get responses in less than a day.

Weather and Money:

AccuWeather:

Stay connected to the latest weather conditions with AccuWeather. It gives you minute-by-minute information on upcoming conditions for your exact location as well as video updates, details on humidity, UV, wind speed, clouds, pressure, sunrise and sunset times.

Oanda Currency Converter:

Oanda uses an easy interface that gives you access to daily filtered rates for more than 190 currencies. It is a must have app with an easy user interface.

To Explore:

Foursquare:

Foursquare is an app that shows you restaurants, bars, shops, beaches, points of interests and even the trending places that are close by or in the destination you are searching for. If you like, you can create lists before your travels and see their locations on a single map. This will help you save time from searching for where to go and discover the best places by seeing the ratings and reviews left by others.

One alternative to Foursquare is Yelp which is pretty common in the U.S.

TripIt

This is a dream app for organizers. TripIt shows all your trip details at a glance: flights, hotels, car, map, directions all in one place. And all you need to do is to connect your emails with the app so that it grabs the travel information automatically from your booking confirmations in e-mails.

To Get Around:

Uber:

There is Uber in many countries and it’s a life saver if you don’t speak the language of that country. It may not be available in all countries so here are the alternative apps to Uber in different countries:

  • EasyTaxi – Available in 30 countries
  • Careem – Qatar and UAE
  • Lyft – USA
  • Hailo – UK, Spain, Ireland, Japan and Singapore
  • LeCab – Paris
  • BiTaksi – Istanbul
  • Ingogo – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane
  • Cabify – Columbia, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Spain
  • Grab (GrabTaxi) –  Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia

Google Maps:

Google Maps is a must have app as you actually don’t need to have an internet connection to use it. Once the satellite locates you, you can turn your roaming off and navigate like a pro. It is pretty accurate and easy to use.

Which travel apps do you use the most? Write in the comments below.

My First Experience with Emirates and Etihad Airways

Flying mostly with Qatar Airways in The Middle East, I finally had a chance to experience Etihad Airways and Emirates economy classes last weekend, and I would like to share my experiences about the two premium Middle Eastern airlines based in UAE.

Before booking and flying with any airline, I check the airline’s safety ranking because safety comes before the luxury and comfort. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways being the best in safety ranking, it was followed by Emirates, Eva Air and Qatar Airways in 2016. Etihad Airways has been the 8th, pulling ahead Lufthansa, British Airways and Qantas.

So here is my review about both airline’s economy class to/from Dusseldorf, Germany from Doha.

Etihad Airways:

Route: Doha to Dusseldorf
Aircraft: A321
First leg: Doha to Abu Dhabi

Check in: Online check-in opens 48 hours before the departure so I checked in online one day before, and the online system let me select an exit seat which is not a common case for some airlines.

The aircraft: It was an old and small A321 probably because the flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi takes only 45 minutes. The legroom and seat comfort were good. There was no blanket or a goodie bag distributed to passengers which were not really required.

Cabin crew: As I mentioned above, I selected my seat online before, however, another passenger showed up with exactly the same seat number while I was already seated. We went to check with the cabin crew but all she said was it happens, and we could sit on an any empty seat. I would expect such a luxurious airline’s cabin crew to apologize and show passengers the seats, instead of giving this unprofessional attitude. Giving the same seat number is not something common and it gives an idea about how safety is important for that airline.

After the seat issue, all passengers were onloaded and the ground staff came to tell me to take my luggages out and follow them outside as I didn’t have a return ticket from Dusseldorf. All passengers were watching what was going on, and I told them I could book it right there and I don’t need to go out with my carry on luggage. Again, the attitude was unacceptable and I still don’t get why a passenger should have a return ticket to be able to fly to Dusseldorf. They told me the ground staff of Abu Dhabi ask for a return ticket but no one did. I booked a return ticket so I didn’t get out of the plane but the situation wasn’t managed well by the crew.

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Etihad’s Exit Seats

Generally, the cabin crew was not attentive or they just didn’t care much about the customer experience in a short haul flight.

Service: They distributed an express snack pack which was a small bottle of water and a cold sandwich.

Second leg: Abu Dhabi to Dusseldorf

Boarding at Abu Dhabi Airport: We were taken to a coach after getting off the plane in Abu Dhabi Airport which made me run to my next flight. Luckily, the boarding was just started when I was at the gate and there was a long queue of passengers. This is something Qatar Airways handles very properly. Passengers sit down, and they get onloaded according to their seat zone areas. Here with Etihad or in Abu Dhabi Airport, all passengers got in the plane after business class passengers which created a chaotic environment at the gate.

Aircraft: B787-9. The lighting, design, attentiveness of cabin crew, seat comfort and the leg room was pretty good. One of the things that I loved was the unique pillows that convert into neck pillows and the flexible headrests . Unfortunately they didn’t give any goodie bags but there was noise cancelling headphones as well as a blanket.

Service and meals: The service started with juices and tea/coffee with the express snack pack which was again a cartoon bag including a cold sandwich, sliced apple pieces and a small water bottle. Some passengers asked for coke and alcohol to drink with their sandwiches but the crew said they could only bring them after the service.

On-board Entertainment System: Entertainment system started only when the seat belt sign was off in the air, and the on-screen cursor was not really useful. There were new movies as well as TV shows but the variety of audio and video was less than Qatar Airways or Emirates.

There was no wifi on board, however you are allowed to use your mobile phone with roaming charges.

Emirates:

Route: Dusseldorf to Doha

First leg: Dusseldorf to Dubai (DXB)

Second leg: Dubai (DXB) to Doha

Aircraft: Both planes were A380s even though there were not many people traveling to Doha from Dubai, but it showed how rich the airline is or how they care about the customer experience.

The legroom and the seat comfort was as good as Qatar Airways A380s. Emirates didn’t give any goodie bag but a blanket and a cushion.

On-board Entertainment System: I can say that Emirates has the best entertainment system in terms of variety of videos and audios. However, the on-screen cursor was a bit difficult to use just as it was with Etihad.

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Cabin crew: It was announced that the cabin crew speaks 7-8 different languages, and they were wearing flags of the countries they are speaking the language of. Emirates’ cabin crew nationalities were mixed while Etihad’s were generally Russian or eastern European, and Qatar Airways has lots of Asian/ South Asian.

Service and meals: The whole service was pretty good. The cabin crew was running around to bring whatever passengers were asking for even before the meal service started. They asked if I would like my water/coke with ice and brought them immediately.

Meals were pretty good. There were only chicken and meat options while Qatar Airways has meat, chicken and vegetarian options in the menu. The chicken I ordered was pretty good, and there were also Italian bread, a bun as well as crackers on the tray. The salad had fish even though it was a chicken meal. They served only one meal for 6 hours of flight.

On the negative side: My seat wasn’t working! I couldn’t lie the seat down all night long and it was a long flight. I was informed the aircraft was full so I didn’t have a chance to change seats either.

In short, I wasn’t very impressed with Etihad’s service but I would still use it if I have to. On the other hand, Emirates made me feel much more safe and welcomed than Etihad. The whole experience was very close to Qatar Airways’ and I would definitely consider flying with Emirates as much as I do with Qatar Airways.