Al Maha – A Luxury Desert Resort

The name really says it all. This hotel took the meaning of Luxury to a whole new level for us!

The hotel is located about an hour’s drive from Dubai Marina and about 45 minutes from the Dubai Hills Estate. We set off relatively early and once we turned off the main road onto an adjacent slip road out to the desert, we were greeted by a security guard who confirmed our check in details before letting us through the gate. What we didn’t realise at the time is that Al Mahais located in the middle of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which is why the security is so stringent. As we set off from security, the next 25 minutes of the journey was off the beaten track, on a small rubble road leading you further into the desert towards the hotel. On this part of the journey we were surprised to already encounter some wild Oryx and gazelles. Before we had even arrived at the hotel Ryan was bored of me shrieking “LOOK” every few minutes!

As some of you know, I changed jobs in July last year and my lovely team from my previous company were extremely generous and gifted me a voucher which we used towards a one night stay at Al Maha. Ryan and I have stayed at several desert resorts throughout the UAE but AlMaha has always been slightly more on the expensive side. We decided to use our gift voucher for a one night stay to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary. Crazy right, heading out to the desert in the middle of the heat in August… but don’t worry, every room comes with its own private infinity pool!

We spent the day chilling around the pool and every so often some of the gazelles would become a bit curious and come over to investigate. The hotel staff said that if we had a small amount of bread we might be able to feed them, so I asked for a side of bread with my pizza at lunch just in case. Sure enough later in the afternoon the gazelles came back and I got close enough to feed them!

As we approached the main reception of the hotel it just felt so calm and quiet everywhere. We checked in and were taken by a golf buggy straight to our room with an early check in (I say it every time, but honestly I love an early check in)! The staff dropped our bags and I’m not sure if they heard the clanging of the wine bottles in our bags, but they conveniently asked if we would like an ice bucket and glasses – which, of course we did!

The room was stunning and so spacious. As you entered the front doorway there was a small cloakroom area with a desk and chair and a small area to make tea and coffee. To the right of the entrance was the bathroom which was huge, with a lovely big bath, Jack and Jill sinks and a double door which opened wide so it felt as if the bath was outside – I got South African safari vibes from this! Located in the main room (which was a bed room / living area) was a huge double bed and a chilled out seating area with two chaise longue either side of a small coffee table which faced outside to the main highlight of the room, the pool. The room was designed in the style of a tent, so there was a pole in the centre of the room, propping up the draped ceiling. The pool was really big for a private room pool, considering that every room in the hotel has one!

As we were there celebrating our first wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to the private in-room dining experience and the sunset camel ride. We headed down to the lobby for 6pm for the sunset desert camel ride and both shared one camel which took us on a 20 minute journey out to the desert.

When we arrived, there was a small bar set up with champagne, beers, wine, soft drinks, anything you could want, and we sat on the dunes watching the sun go down before heading back on the 20 minute journey back to the hotel.

When we got back to our room, the hotel staff had already been in and set up the dining area outside our room on the terrace in front of the pool, it was so lovely. When we requested the in-room dining we were required to choose our options from the set menu. For starters, we ordered the beef carpaccio and shrimp tempura. The carpaccio was gorgeous and the shrimp tempura was presented on a bed of black rocks which was unique. For mains, I have to say that I made the best choice, and ordered the fillet steak which was served on a bed of creamy mash potato and a side of vegetables. Ryan’s main was also super tasty, he opted for the Arabic mixed grill which came with a selection of beef kebab, jumbo prawn, fish and chicken with a side of grilled vegetables and chips. To finish, the hotel had treated us to a lovely chocolate cake which was personalised to say “Happy Anniversary” which was extremely generous but by this point we were stuffed! At least we didn’t have far to go back to our room!

After an incredible night’s sleep, we requested the hotel to deliver our breakfast to our room and placed our order over the phone. We had an amazing selection of pastries, breads, eggs benedict, waffles, coffee and juices, all set up on the coffee table in front of the doors leading out to the pool.

We were able to have a slightly later checkout and spent the day chilling in the sun in our private pool; it was bliss. Thankfully, the drive back home was short and sweet after an amazingly relaxing stay. Al Maha really is one of, if not the most, luxurious hotel I have stayed it, nothing is enough for the staff and the proximity to central Dubai is great as its only a short drive home after a chilled out weekend.

Sharjah’s Hidden Gem

Tucked away off one of Sharjah’s busy roads is a small entrance to the Chedi Al Bait. The complex opened its doors as the Chedi Hotel in December 2018 and I have to say that it was only this past summer that I began to hear about the hotel. So, we packed our bags and booked up a one night stay at the start of August. The hotel was a relatively short drive from our villa so we enjoyed the little road trip crossing the border into Sharjah – I have to admit that in my almost six years living in Dubai this is the first time I visited Sharjah (as opposed to just driving through it)!

When the maps told us we were only one minute away I thought to myself, “surely we have the wrong address here” but we turned the corner to see the subtle Chedi sign at the side of the road. The concierge assisted us with our luggage through the narrow walkways into the reception.

Upon check in, the staff provided us with a small sanitising pack which contained anti-bac gel and gloves which was a nice touch.

Hotel Facilities

Inside the grounds of the hotel it felt so peaceful. There are courtyards with olive trees and casual seating areas tucked in all corners of the hotel. It really is like a maze wandering around the narrow pathways.

The hotel also houses a library which explains some of the history of the building itself and has a large collection of books in both English and Arabic.

The hotel also has a lovely, albeit small, swimming pool. As we visited during COVID times we were required to book a 2 hour slot at the pool so as to prevent it from becoming overcrowded.

Our Room

One of the highlights of our stay was the amazing bed in our room! No, seriously. This took hotel beds to a whole other level! The mattress is made from horse hair (you should probably check if you have allergies before staying) and it really felt like I was sleeping on air. The bathroom continued the traditional Arabic themed décor with neutral walls, wooden doors and dark basin sinks. It also had a gorgeous waterfall style shower.

Restaurants

We dined in both the International restaurant as well as the Arabic restaurant during our stay at the hotel. We decided on having lunch in the International restaurant whereby we had a range of small dishes from salads to soft-shell crab and it was all lovely. The International restaurant is very light and open and also had a lovely outdoor seating area (which we chose not to make use of in August)! The breakfast also served in the International restaurant and has a great selection of egg dishes, pancakes, waffles etc. of which you could order multiple items! We were also served a selection of freshly baked pastries as well as juice, tea and coffee – as you can tell, I love a good breakfast! 

We ate at the Arabic Restaurant for dinner on the Friday night – we were glad to have made a reservation as the restaurant was quite busy. We shared a selection of Arabic meze starters such as hummus, tabbouleh and falafel, followed by one sharing platter of chicken shish tawook and another platter of grilled seafood. Everything was super tasty!

Sadly, during our stay at the Chedi, I feel ill (which I know now as being the onset of my Bell’s Palsy). As much as I enjoyed our stay it was shrouded by stress with not knowing what was wrong with me at that time. I would love to return because it really was so relaxing and a lovely way to escape the city.

The Magical Maldives

2020 was a tough year for travel but in December we were lucky enough to go on our first holiday of the year and we headed off to the Maldives. The Maldives has been on my bucket list forever, but we have always said we would save it for a special occasion. But, as our honeymoon was cancelled and we weren’t able to travel anywhere else in 2020 we decided to treat ourselves. 

A key factor when booking trips at the moment is whether quarantine is required on arrival and any other COVID restrictions of that country. The Maldives has been open for travel since the Summer and, when travelling from Dubai, the requirement is to present a negative PCR test upon check in and as residents, when returning to Dubai, a negative test was required for check in for the return flight. Apart from that, there were no other restrictions or isolation requirements in either the Maldives or Dubai. 

So, with a five day public holiday approaching, we took the plunge and booked a four night all inclsuive stay at Ozen Life Maadhoo.

Firstly, and most importantly for travel in current times, Ozen’s response to COVID was outstanding. The island is COVID free which means that hotel guests are able to roam the island without the need to wear masks – we had forgotten what that felt like! Our personal Butler, Kunal, assisted us with everything throughout our stay, including scheduling our COVID test for our return flight to Dubai via the hotels onsite doctor. The doctor came to our room for an examination and to conduct a nasal and mouth swab. The results were then sent to the main island for analyzing and we received the results the following day. Ozen provided us with a soft copy of the report and hard copy print outs for the check in desk at the airport. Given the travel situation in the world right now we were anxious about travel but Ozen really took that stress and worry away.

Now onto the fun stuff! 

From the moment we arrived at Male airport an Ozen member of staff was waiting for us. They greeted us at arrivals, took our luggage and we set straight off on the hotels private boat for the 45 minute journey to the island. 

The island was absolutely stunning. On arrival, we were given an itinerary for our stay which included a fishing trip, dolphin sunset trip and a snorkel trip as well as reservations at each of the hotel’s restaurants. We didn’t have to think about anything – it was the ultimate relaxation.

The hotel has five restaurants which were all included as part of our all inclusive package (I will write a separate post about all of the amazing food we ate during our stay). We stayed in one of the overwater villas which was a dream come true. The hotel also has beach front villas which looked just as amazing, imagine waking up and stepping onto your own private beach! We really wanted that Maldives experience of laying out on the terrace watching the fish swim below, and heading down the steps of our room straight into the ocean.

Ryan and I are creatures of habit so every morning we got up and sat out on our terrace trying to spot any sharks or sting rays with our morning coffee before heading down to breakfast. We ate in the Palms restaurant every day for breakfast which had a great buffet selection along with a live cooking station. Ryan followed his three course breakfast with a Mimosa, whilst I had an iced coffee with a shot of Kalua as my tipple!

The island was so relaxing and each morning we would set off on a walk or bike ride around the island after suitably stuffing ourselves at the buffet! The sun was very powerful and even though we live in the sun all year round we still got quite burnt!

Another great benefit of the all inclusive package was the unlimited complementary use of snorkel equipment, kayaks and paddle boards so most mornings on the way back from our walk, we would stop off at the water sports area and head out on the water. I love paddle boarding, Ryan on the other hand isn’t much of a natural so he would always opt for a kayak!

One of the highlights of our stay was dining in the under water restaurant, M6M, which is located 6 meters below the sea! Eating lobster and drinking champagne whilst watching the sharks swim by – that’s an experience that is going to take a lot to beat.

Also included within our all-inclusive package was a complimentary 60 minute spa treatment which we saved until our final morning. The spa is located nearby the gym and saltwater swimming pool and consists of several small huts which each accommodate couples massages and face out to sea. The massage was heavenly and the perfect way to end our five days in paradise.

We cannot fault any part of our stay at Ozen. Every member of staff took time out of their day to speak to us, ask how our day was going and if we needed anything. We can’t thank them enough for making this trip so special. We already can’t wait to return.

The Address Sky View

As most of you know from previous travel blogs, I ALWAYS travel for my birthday. It’s just what I love to do! However this year, as we were due to be going on our honeymoon at the start of April, only a few weeks after my birthday, I decided it would be best to spend this birthday in Dubai. It’s a blessing in disguise really, could you imagine if we had travelled and ended up like all of those other poor people stranded around the world!

Anywho, our honeymoon was sadly cancelled as a result of COVID, but, I digress. This post is in relation to the delightful staycation we ended up booking for my birthday! I have a hotel wishlist on my phone, which appears to be constantly growing! And I decided on checking out the then-recently opened Address Sky View Hotel.

Located smack bang in the middle of Downtown Dubai, the Address Sky View has uncomparable views of the Burj Khalifa and is a stone’s throw away from the Dubai Mall. As we entered the hotel we were greeted with the familiar “Address” scent, our luggage was taken and we were whisked straight to check in. We managed to get a great offer by booking directly on the Address website. Our hotel price included breakfast and we each received three vouchers for use across the Emaar facilities, this was a nice bonus. We chose vouchers for the Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Ice Skating Rink and Reel Cinemas. (We used the Aquarium voucher in the summer and it was a great experience, I didn’t actually realise how huge the aquarium is in the Dubai Mall!)

We left our luggage with the Concierge and headed out for some lunch at the restaurant around the pool. I have to admit, I was feeling quite sensitive (and sorry for myself) as I had been out celebrating my birthday with the girls the previous night.

Our room was ready early so we headed up for a quick change and then straight to the highlight of the hotel… the rooftop infinity pool.

We had access to the Lounge included in our room booking so popped there for a coffee and nibble before getting ready for our meal.

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I was so excited to dine at Ce La Vie! For my birthday last year, we actually visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore and had lunch at Ce La Vie. I hope this has become my new birthday tradition…!

The food, service, drinks and view were all spectacular. It was by far one of the best meals we have had in Dubai.

We rolled out of the restaurant (I’m not sure if it was too much food or wine) but luckily didn’t have too far to go. When we got back to the room, the staff had laid rose petals on the bed, wishing me a happy birthday. It was a lovely touch and a perfect end to the day.

The following day we were able to extend our check out. The rooms come with a smart TV with Netflix built in so we decided to give in to all of the social media fuss and start the series Love is Blind. We all but finished the series that day!

I have to admit, this was the first Address Hotel that we have stayed in, but I cannot fault our stay from the service, cleanliness and overall experience. I would absolutely stay here again.

The Staycay Series

I have really missed writing my travel blog this year and I’ve decided that, even though we’ve been unable to travel abroad (so far…) we’ve still had a lovely year of staycays in the UAE! So I’ve decided to write this Staycay Series, giving a shout-out to all of the lovely hotels we have stayed at throughout the year.

It’s still not the quite the same as the excitement of researching and planning a holiday; the super early wake up call to get to the airport; the satisfaction of a full nights sleep on a red-eye flight; and the lists coming out of my ears to make sure I pack appropriately! Nonetheless, we are so lucky to live in the location that we do with the UAE’s versatile range of hotels, and looking back over the past six months, we have done a pretty good job of making the most out of them!

So here is a snapshot of what’s to come…

City Breaks
There’s nothing more relaxing than finding an oasis in the centre of a bustling, vibrant city. And we uncovered two of those this summer! Starting the year at the newly opened Address Sky View hotel with unbeatable views of the Burj Khalifa, it was a birthday to remember.

We then ventured into the narrow streets of Sharjah for our first staycay in the Emirate. The Chedi Al Bait is a hidden gem located in the middle of a busy street, but once you step inside the walls you’re welcomed by the calming sound of silence.

Beach Vibes
As soon as lockdown lifted in the UAE we headed straight for Ajman, the rules were slightly more relaxed, the hotel swimming pools were open and alcohol was being served so we treated ourselves to a cheap and cheerful stay at the Fairmont, Ajman.

Zabeel Saray – a hotel that has been on the hotel bucket list for a while! But we finally got to experience the hotel first hand (and yes, I did find an amazing deal).

A hotel that we have visited many, many times before is Le Royal Meridien but I was finally able to enjoy a one night stay! It was the perfect girly weekend full of sunbathing, wine, lots of wine, and fun!

Desert Dreaming
The one night stay that, I don’t think, will ever be beaten! Al Maha Luxury Desert Resort is exactly what it says in the name! The hotel really catered for our every need during our stay as well as the needs we didn’t know we had!

At the time of writing this post we also have one more staycation planned for a few weeks time for Ryan’s birthday as we are off to Sir Bani Yas Island. We have heard amazing things about this hotel so I can’t wait to experience it for ourselves!

I hope you enjoy the reviews to come, and hopefully by the time they’re finished, we will be ready to board a plane for our first holiday of the year… (please keep everything crossed for us!)

Exploring Jordan and the Lost City of Petra

This trip had been on our travel list for a while so we were really excited when we were finally able to book a long weekend away to Jordan. To be honest, we haven’t really made the most of exploring the Middle Eastern countries since living here; I guess it’s always the same when something is right on your doorstep. Jordan’s main appeal for us was the Ancient City of Petra; the basis of many films and stories, it really is crazy to imagine a city carved into the mountains, let alone one that was built in 400BC!

When planning our trip and researching online we were uncertain as to whether we wanted to hire a driver for the duration of our trip or whether to hire a car and travel around ourselves. We had read mixed reviews about the quality of hire cars, condition of the roads and also road signs. With the early starts we had planned for each day, we decided it would be the better option for us to pay slightly more and hire a driver for the three days (that way, it meant that we were able to catch up on some sleep during the journeys as well).

Jordan was not as cheap as we were expecting, the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) is almost on a par with the Pound. We also noticed that the price of petrol was quite expensive, again almost on a par with the UK, which is something you should bear in mind if you are considering hiring a car during your time in Jordan. Some friends of ours had visited Jordan in the summer and used a driver whom they highly recommended, Hamza, so I got in touch with him, outlining our full itinerary with dates and times and he replied almost instantly with a quote of 200JOD. Initially I was unsure if it was quite pricey, but considering our travel itinerary was from the Airport to the Dead Sea (approx. 1.5 hours); Dead Sea to Petra (approx. 3 hours) and Petra to Amman (approx. 3.5 hours) including petrol and tolls, I thought this to be quite reasonable. Hamza asked us to simply pay the driver at the end of our final trip which was great. You can find his Facebook page here. If you would like his mobile number please contact me privately and I can provide it.

The Dead Sea

So, we started our journey at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa. There are a cluster of hotels along the same small stretch including a Kempinski and Ramada. We decided on the Hilton because the facilities looked beautiful online, and they didn’t disappoint. On arrival, the security were extremely thorough with checking our vehicle and also our reservation before letting us enter. As we drove down to the hotel lobby we could see the entrances to the other hotels in the vicinity as well as being able to catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea. The Hilton lobby is beautiful, it’s a huge open space that looks out to the sea and has a lovely balcony with some seating overlooking the view.

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Our room was ready early (result) so we went straight there to change and head down to the pool. We found a spot near to the infinity pool but the water was freezing, so I just had a quick dip! We then went down to see what all the fuss was about on the beach. As we entered the sea it was pretty cold, although I guess we were there at the very end of November. There were also a lot rocks, pebbles and lumps of salt at the entrance of the sea. Once I was up to about hip height I threw myself forward and found I just bobbed straight up! No matter how hard I tried to touch the bottom, I just couldn’t! It’s such a strange sensation, especially when you flip onto your front and can’t get back round!

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I was told by a few people to remove all jewellery before going in, because if the jewellery is not solid gold the high salt levels within the water can cause deterioration. I wanted to absolutely ensure none went in my eyes so I kept my sunglasses on but tried to avoid getting any water on them. Ryan thought it would be a good idea to taste some of the sea… I think he may have burnt off a few taste buds in the process! We followed our short swim by smothering ourselves in the Dead Sea clay! It’s full of minerals that are supposed to be great for your skin so layered it on thick and stood out in the sun to bake it on!

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We tried out both the Italian and Arabic restaurants within the hotel and thought that both of our meals were lovely. The one thing that let this stay down was the flies! Oh my god thousands of flies! We sat outside for lunch which was a terrible idea and quickly moved inside. The staff informed us that it was fertilisation season for the fields which is why there were so many flies. So I guess you have to make the decision whether you visit in the heat of summer or in the cooler season and be attacked by flies!

Petra

The following morning we were up at around 6 to pack up, check out and start the next leg of our journey to Petra. Our driver arrived right on cue and decided to take us the scenic route via the Kings Highway. The terrain was stunning; breathtakingly stunning. We did meet a slight roadblock on the way though, two shepherds on donkeys trying to herd around thirty sheep out of the road!

We made a small detour via Little Petra which was our first taste of the Nabateean ruins. We had not yet purchased our Petra ticket but the guys at the entrance were kind enough to allow us through without showing the ticket. We hiked quite a way and navigated our way round to find some of the carvings in the mountains.

We arrived at the Petra Guest House Hotel at around 10.30am and were so lucky that our room was vacant and ready (we were seriously lucky this trip)! We dropped our bags and headed straight to get out entrance tickets to Petra as we wanted to try and beat any queues possible. The entrance price was quite steep at JOD 50 per person for a single day entry, or JOD 55 per person for a two day entry. As we were staying overnight and had the next morning free, we decided to opt for the two day entry as it was much better value for money. We were undecided about getting a tour guide, but I always feel that you learn and absorb so much more by having a local tour guide than trying to read up before and after. You can pick licensed guides up at the same place as purchasing the entrance tickets for JOD 50 which takes you from the starting point all the way through to the Roman ruins. If you wish to head further to the Monastery, the guide charges an extra JOD 50, but ours was honest enough to tell us that the route was easy to follow and we didn’t really require a guide for the final stretch.

We entered the site at around 11am and opted to do the whole thing on foot. As you enter, there are hundreds of horses, camels and donkeys that you can pay to take you through, but honestly, it just looked quite cruel, so we boycotted this entirely. Our guide was lovely and really informative, stopping every so often to show us hidden carvings in the walls and explaining about the Nabateean way of life in 400BC. It’s astonishing to imagine it all such a long time ago! The walk from the entrance to the Treasury was around an hour as we stopped for several discussions and photos along the way. As you get closer and walk through the windy path you can just about see a narrow gap forming in the rocks where you can catch a glimpse of the Treasury. You turn a corner and all of a sudden the rock opens up to a huge open space with the Treasury right in front of you. It is amazing.

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The Treasury

We saw a few people hiking up the rocks opposite to the Treasury and above the path so we decided to follow suit and found a local guy who lives up in the rocks making tea who allows you to sit and have a picture taken. He charged JOD 1 per person to go there so he was making a killing, all in the name of Instagram! We had our photo and continued on down to the Roman Ruins for around another hour. We parted with our guide and continued by foot up the 850 steps to the Monastery.

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The Monastery

That evening we had dinner and drinks at the Cave Bar which was attached to our hotel. The bar was really quirky and had small coves that could sit 2-3 people comfortably. We enjoyed some Jordanian wine (which was surprisingly good) and some local food; Ryan had a shawarma and I had a chicken and rice dish, until we were suitably stuffed!

The following day, we were up early (again), had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight back into the site towards the Treasury, in an attempt to beat the crowds one more time. We headed up the rocks back to the gypsy who lived inside and had some tea with him whilst we watch the sun fully rise across the face of the Treasury. It was a lovely morning, topped off by the fact that he had a really cute cat living up there with him, who I of course befriended.

Amman

Our final night was in Amman, the capital city of Jordan. The drive from Petra to Amman was quite long and exacerbated by the afternoon traffic around the city centre. We set off from Petra at around 12 o’clock and arrived at our hotel, the Amman Rotana, just before 4pm. We checked into our room and our intention was to head straight out to Rainbow Street which is a road full of cafes and restaurants. But the thought of sitting in more traffic for the next 30 minutes wasn’t very appealing. So we decided just to stay around our hotel and have some down time.

The hotel was lovely. The Rotana is one of only two high rise towers in Amman and with very modern interior. We asked for a high room and were given a room on the 24h floor and had views all across the city. 

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The hotel had a good choice of restaurants with the international buffet, an Italian, a bar and an Argentinian Steakhouse. We opted for the steak! We shared a 1kg Tomahawk steak which was amazing, literally melt in the mouth. The restaurant itself was lovely and the internal décor was beautiful, the only thing that was missing was customers! We were literally the only people in there! It did however, mean that the service was exceptional and we didn’t feel like the staff were just hovering around us either.

 

We spent the rest of the evening just chilling in our lovely modern hotel room, watching TV and crashed after the hectic weekend. It was much easier getting back to the airport as it took less than twenty minutes from the Amman Rotana. It was a nice way to end the trip but we agreed it would have been nice to explore Amman a bit more, there’s some Roman ruins just outside the city which would have been great to see.

Our time in Jordan was lovely, if not a bit rushed, but that’s expected when trying to cram so much into just a 3 night stay. We would have loved to explore further by visiting the Wadi Rum and seeing a bit more of Amman city centre.

Stellies and Safari

Our recent 10 day trip to South Africa was split into three parts, four nights in Cape Town (you can read about it here and also about all of the amazing food that we ate here) three nights in Stellenbosch and two nights at a safari lodge – the Garden Route Game Reserve. Each part of the trip was completely different to the other, with each area having a totally different vibe.  This is one reason I loved South Africa; the abundance of activities and beautiful places that it has to explore.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch, or “Stellies” as the locals refer to it, is only a short one hour drive from Cape Town. We had pre-booked a driver however, we soon found out that most people simply book an Uber to take them, this is a much cheaper option, although having our hotel transfer was very convenient. As you leave Cape Town, the terrain changes entirely, the towns become more dispersed, it’s much greener and you can see mountains and fields for miles.

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Zorgvliet Wine Estate

When deciding on our accommodation for Stellenbosch there was a huge selection to choose from. So many lovely boutique hotels; farm houses; luxury guest houses and so on. One of our criteria was that we wanted to choose accommodation that was directly connected to its own vineyard, but within a reasonable budget so we decided on Zorgvliet Wine Estate.

When we arrived the sun was beaming down and it was a gorgeous 27 degrees! The hotel only has 12 rooms which sleep from one to six guests so it had a very personal feel to it. From checking in the staff were extremely friendly and helpful and we were able to head straight to our room. We decided to take a walk out through the vineyards and explore the estate. Everything was so beautiful. We made our way round to the chapel and wine tasting room. You are able to hire the hotel and grounds out for private weddings, I kind of wish I knew this a year ago!

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Situated around the back of the hotel was a cute little farm shop (which I spent far too much money in) and they had a picnic basket menu …. yes, a menu for selecting your picnic basket. It was so cute! We chose a basket that came with chicken wraps, cold cuts of hams, a cheese selection, salad, baguette, chocolate brownie and, most importantly, a bottle of white wine! We sat on one of the little picnic benches enjoying our picnic and it was just lovely.

The Fat Butcher

That night, we ventured out of the hotel to visit the Fat Butcher steak restaurant which is located in Stellenbosch town centre. We drove through the university campuses to get there so it was nice to see a bit more of the town. From the outside, the restaurant looks very quaint and relatively small, inside was a different story! There were several different rooms all full of people dining. We were sat in the main room, close to the bar. The interior was lovely and the staff were all wearing lovely brown leather aprons. To start, I ordered the carpaccio which was really thick compared to the usually wafer thin slices of beef, I was almost full with the main part yet to come! Ryan had the bone marrow which most other people appeared to order as well! For our main we shared an 850g T-bone steak with truffle mash, seasonal veggies and a bottle of red wine. There was no room for dessert, but there was space for an espresso martini! The overall bill came to just over £50, we couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if we are just spoilt with Dubai prices or if South Africa really is super cheap!

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Delaire Graff Wine Estate

The next morning, Ryan headed out to De Zalze golf course for a round of golf and I had booked myself in for a spa morning at Delaire Graff Estate. I had a 60 minute body massage followed by a 60 minute facial and then headed out to the infinity pool for a chill, what a treat. Ryan joined my shortly after and we sat and had a few glasses of champagne while chilling around the pool. We had a wine tasting session booked in where we sampled five of their wines, followed by lunch out on the terrace. The food was amazing! I had the pork belly and Ryan chose the sea bass. By the time we left I was quite tipsy and very full. We arrived back at our hotel and Ryan went for more wine tasting (I don’t know how he managed it) whilst I had a little snooze around the pool.

Platform Wine and 3/4

On our final day in the winelands we headed across to Franschhoek. We had booked a transfer with the Wine Tram company in advance but it wasn’t actually required as it was only around a 15 minute drive from our hotel and we definitely could have got an uber there. The Franschhoek Wine Tram was one of our favourite days in SA! You definitely need to book in advance online to avoid disappointment and do a bit of research to decide which vineyards and route you would like to do for the day. I let Ryan choose this for us and he decided on the orange line. We started by getting on a bus to the first part of the tram line for the orange route. Once we sat on the tram we were each given our first glass of wine of the day … it was 9.36am!

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At the start of the day you’re provided with a schedule which outlines each of the stops, the time that the tram or bus arrives, and the time that it will depart. They stick to the schedule by the minute! The tram/bus picks you up from each stop after every 35 minutes / 1 hour 10 / 1 hour 45 and so on, so you can plan your day according to how many stops you wish to visit.

The first vineyard we visited was Noble Hill. We sat out in a cute little terrace for the wine tasting followed by a stroll around the grounds. We allowed 1 hour 10 for this stop so we didn’t feel rushed and it was just the right amount of time.

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Next, we visited Babylonstoren and spent just under three hours here! As you leave the bus stop on the left hand side they have a small gift shop that sells soaps and creams and you can make your own foot scrub and face clay! I had far too much fun in here mixing up the little potions. We also saw the small factory at the back where they extract lavender and rosemary oil from the leaves harvested around their grounds.

Their wine tasting room was a lovely bright area with floor to ceiling windows so you could look out across the vineyards. It was absolutely packed full of people in there but we managed to get a seat and enjoy the tasting. Some people were pairing their wine tasting with food platters but we had made a lunch reservation at a different restaurant on the grounds, Babel. Just outside the restaurant were two huge turkeys, I made a joke that they were getting ready for Christmas to which the waitress replied “those are actually our pets”… awkward.

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The food in Babel was amazing, honestly we didn’t have a bad meal during our entire holiday! I had the steak with my favourite glass of red wine I had tried during the tasting and Ryan ordered the pork belly. I could have spent all day at this vineyard as there were so many parts to it and if you follow them on Instagram they show different activities they have on at different times of the week, such as gardening and activities within their farm.

Our penultimate stop was at Vrede En Lust. By this point I was 11 glasses in and actually needed a break, Ryan soldiered on though and sampled another six wines there. This was my favourite vineyard for views. We sat outside on the little terrace looking across the vineyard with the mountains in the background and you could see the tram line and watch the tram arrive into the platform.

Our final stop of the day was at Boschendal it was stunning and by far the largest
estate that we visited. I decided to do the Rose Garden tasting which included two “tastings” of champagne which actually turned out to be full size glasses! I’m not sure how we were still standing by the end but we headed back to Stellenbosch and decided to chill in and have dinner at the little restaurant within the hotel.

Safari

The last stop of our trip was a two night stay at the Garden Route Game Reserve. It was a four hour drive from Stellenbosch to the reserve so we booked our driver in advance via the Game Reserve itself. The journey really wasn’t too bad and on the way we saw baboons and a little giraffe out in the distance. As we turned into the Game Reserve I was so excited.

We checked in and were given our itinerary for the three days. We had just enough time to drop our bags to our cute little hut before heading out on our first sunset safari. Our jeep held ten people plus our guide and we headed out in search of the Big Five.

The reserve’s land stretches for hectares! It is separated into different sections housing certain animals. Firstly is the elephant enclosure. The reserve has two elephants, both of which were rescued from elephant back safaris and are now living at the Reserve. As they have been used to human contact, and due to the huge amount of food that they eat per day, the eles have a bit of help from the staff with their food but you still cannot get close enough to touch them.

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The second area houses cheetahs, rhinos, hippos, zebra, water buffalo, ostrich, antelope, gazelles, springbok and many more. All of these animals live life as if they are truly out in the wild. There is no human contact whatsoever and you really have to drive around searching for the animals! We were lucky enough to see a Mummy, Daddy and baby rhino! When asked how many rhinos the reserve has our guide informed us that they are not allowed to disclose the exact number as rhinos are a protected animal and in danger of poachers so they have to keep their rhinos safe!

We were also lucky enough to see a cheetah with her four cheetah cubs! The cubs are around five months old, still a bit fluffy and super cute! The mum has a collar on her neck and when we asked why this was, our guide informed us that they track the mum to ensure that she and the babies are safe while they are growing. The reserve is also part of a cheetah conservation programme whereby when the cheetah cubs are old enough they will be sent to another game reserve to live. This ensures that the cheetahs bloodlines stay pure and there is no interbreeding within the families.

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Part way through our safari we pulled over for a little picnic, we had wine, beer some snacks and watched as the sun was starting to set. At he end of the Safari we were dropped back to the main part of the reserve where the staff had lit some bonfires and stood around having a glass of wine before heading to dinner. The perfect end to an amazing day.

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We were up bright and early the next morning to head out on the sunrise safari. We were told the animals were likely to be more active than the previous evening and we set off in search of the King of the Jungle in the lions section. The gates opened and as we drove through we saw the first of many springbok carcasses abandoned in the grass. As we approached we saw the big daddy with not one but four female lions around him. We stopped nearby, but still at a safe distance, and watched them go about their morning. One of the females started walking around and pulled a funny face that looked as if she was about to sneeze (our little cat Ted actually pulls the same face at home sometimes) and our guide informed as that she was picking up a scent of prey to catch for their lunch! This enclosure also homes springbok, antelope, gazelles etc so the lions are required to hunt for their prey; and the prey are still required to run!

The Safari ended at around 7.30am so we had breakfast and by this point the rain had set in so we sat out in the balcony at our hut over looking the watering hole and decided to crack open a bottle of champagne before our massage at midday!

Our final Safari that evening took us to yet another enclosure, this time in search of the final animal on our Big Five list, the giraffes. This enclosure is the newest piece of land that the reserve owns and only opened last year as it took four year to create the correct terrain for the giraffes and to plot the route for the safari to take. We were searching for around an hour before eventually sighting the giraffes. We stopped off again for our sunset picnic before driving back to the main reserve. As it had been raining that day we were lucky enough to see a hippo out of the watering hole grazing.

We had such an amazing time at be Garden Route Game Reserve and I would highly recommend it for those who don’t have enough time to head down to Kruger or other national parks that are much further away from Cape Town. It’s clear that all of the staff at the reserve are extremely passionate about the welfare of the animals and focus on the importance of allowing them to remain living in the “wild” whilst in the safe boundaries of the reserve.

Singapore

I can’t believe that it’s taken me so long to watch Crazy Rich Asians – even after Ryan constantly nagging at me to watch it for so long! Anyway, it didn’t disappoint and watching it brought back all the emotions I felt when visiting Singapore myself a few months ago … and reminded me that I’m yet to write a blog about it!

So, slightly delayed, but I’ve finally got round to writing about our (very short) time in Singapore and all that we managed to cram into our visit!

Day One

We landed from Langkawi into the famous Changi Airport at around midday and, as we travelled lightly, we scurried out with our hand-luggage and wasted no time in the airport. We had read online about the budget / comfort taxis so it was a little disappointing when the airport staff tried scooting us into the higher end, expensive taxis.

We took the little budget taxi and raced to check into our hotel the Pan Pacific. We contemplated staying at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (and not just for the rooftop pool) but we decided that for the cost of the hotel we just wouldn’t make our money’s worth as we didn’t intend on spending any time at the hotel as there was too much exploring to be done! The Pan Pacific was a lovely 5* hotel, although it had more of a corporate feel than holiday, it was in a great location within walking distance to Marina Bay Sands Hotel and it has an MRT station less than a minute walk away.

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We headed straight to Marina Bay Sands and up to Ce La Vi. We landed in Singapore the day after my birthday and so Ryan treated me to the three course lunch with wine pairings. The food, and wine, was delicious and the staff were so friendly they made me a birthday card with a Polaroid photo of Ryan and I, sang happy birthday and prepared a dessert with gold flakes and my name! (Definitely service of a 5* hotel!) We had amazing views across the Singapore Strait and could see some of the Indonesian islands from up there. After we finished our food we headed round to the poolside and sat overlooking the Marina with all of the skyscrapers whilst drinking more wine. I must admit that out of the two sides of the hotel, my favourite view was across the Strait, it overlooked the Gardens by the Bay and the views were just breathtaking. Living in Dubai I’m lucky enough to have a view of the Marina and skyscrapers as soon as I open my curtains in the morning, so it’s nice to see some greenery and nature.

Gardens by the Bay

Its not often that we go on holiday and do super touristy things but I was so excited to visit the Gardens by the Bay. I had seen so many pictures on Instagram and read up on a few blogs but I did not expect the trees to be so tall!

We walked around the gardens for a little while and then headed to the domes. We started in the cloud dome which was amazing! It’s incredible to think that they have replicated and created a natural oasis inside what is essentially a huge green house! I was shocked at how many different species of trees and plants were housed in there, let alone the waterfall cascading through the centre and the naturally formed clouds on the higher floors.

We then headed across to the flower dome which was lovely but by this point we were exhausted – and had done a fair bit of walking! We had purchased a joint entry ticket but didn’t realise how long we would spend in the Cloud Dome and would probably have been better to just buy a single entry ticket.

Level 33

We went to meet one of Ryan’s friends for dinner and drinks and he took us to Level 33, a bar in the Marina Bay Financial District with insane sunset views of Marina Bay Sands.

Usually we are the ones meeting people on holiday in Dubai and showing them amazing bars and restaurants for dinner so it was nice to have the shoe on the other foot for a change.

Day Two

Orchard Road

We started the day by taking the MRT to Orchard road and went for a lush breakfast at Wild Honey. We would never have found this little cafe but it came highly recommended from Ryan’s friend and it didn’t disappoint – and we do love our brekkies!

China Town

The second stop of the day was China Town. China Town was crazy and full of life! There were market stalls popped up all around, we visited a few temples and stopped to have lunch at one of the Michelin Star Street food shops. I could have spent hours just walking around the markets and taking in the hustle and bustle of daily life there.

Little India

Our next stop was Little India – we just took the MRT between all of our stops, it’s super easy to use and all of the stops are written in English, it’s by far the easiest way to get around the city.

Little India was much quieter than China Town but we still loved walking around the colourful streets 💛

Raffles hotel

Our final stop of the day was Raffles Hotel for a legendary Singapore Sling cocktail! Although the hotel was under renovation the Long Bar is still open (as is the gift shop where we spent a small fortune!)

The cocktails were lovely and the decor of the bar made me feel as if we were in the 1950’s it was a great experience. We also ate our body weight in monkey nuts!

Clarke’s Quay

We spent our final evening at Clarke’s Quay and ate in a lovely Asian restaurant called Little Saigon which was an Asian street food concept but the tables were sat slightly over the Quay which was lovely. We walked around and sat down at one of the bars right on the river bank and stayed there for a few hours drinking and watching the world go by.

Day Three

On our final day in Singapore we met up with my friend Ingmar who has lived in Singapore for the majority of his life. I met Ingmar when I first went travelling to Thailand at the age of 19 and we have stayed in touch through Facebook etc. since. It was lovely to see him as we had 7 years of life to catch up on!

Ryan and I then headed to Sentosa Island to spend our final day on the beach. We were unsure at first whether Sentosa, as a man made island, would feel like the Palm but actually we didn’t consider this once we were there. We took the tram across from the mainland which was only SGD$8 each for a return journey and extremely easy.

I couldn’t help but see the similarities between Singapore and Dubai. A financial hub, bustling city life but with the 5* hotels, beaches and all year weather (although I am aware at how lucky we were that it didn’t rain during our time in Singapore!) but the one thing I feel that Singapore has over Dubai is the nature and the deep rooted culture. My favourite part of our trip was spending time in China Town and drinking along the river bank in Clarke Quay.

Although indeed we were only there for little over two days, I have fallen in love with the place and I’m pining to return, whether for a holiday or permanently, who knows?!

Our first month with Privilee

We have just finished our first month with Privilee and it’s fair to say it has had a huge impact on our spare time for the better! Not only have we been able to make the most of the 5* hotel facilities on the weekends, we have also been making the most of the gym access during the week days (it’s taken a year but yes, I have finally gone back to the gym!)

Here are some of the highlights from our first month on Privilee:

W Hotel Dubai Palm

W for “Wow”! Upon arriving at the hotel it definitely has the wow factor of a 5* hotel. The Reception staff were really helpful and guided us to the separate Privilee desk which allowed for a seamless check in of our Privilee cards. We headed up to the first floor to visit the gym and were blown away by the view from the outside training area. The gym has views of the W Hotel pool and beach area (which is breath taking on its own), as well as views of the Atlantis, the soon to be Royal Atlantis, the Palm and the Marina. The equipment in the gym is high-tech and the treadmill had access to news channels, Youtube and many more channels. We also loved the kettle bells which were designed to look like gorillas!

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We still couldn’t get over the views from the outside training area so decided to do some abs workouts outside whilst taking in the view – honestly the views actually motivated me to train for longer! We showered and changed before heading down to relax on the beach. The only downside of the gym facilities would be that the changing rooms are relatively small and there is only one shower in the changing room.

The pool area was pretty busy by the time we got down there, approx. 10.30am but this may have been due to the fact that the top pool was closed for brunch and also with it being opening weekend on Privilee. But there were still plenty of sun beds down the beach and we managed to get the last cabana. The hotel staff came over instantly with two complimentary bottles of water and apples!

We opted for sandwiches and chips for lunch, I had the chicken and avocado sandwich whilst Ryan had the Whole Cow (hard earned from the earlier workout) and the food came quickly, fresh and very tasty. We were pleasantly surprised with the bill at the end of the day, appreciating the Prviliee discount of 20% on food as well.

Overall, we had a lovely daycation at W Hotel and felt like it was the perfect way to escape a busy week in Dubai. This is definitely a hotel we will recommend to friends and family – along with the Privilee card.

Address Hotel Dubai Marina

Sticking with our weekend gym routine we decided to visit the Address Hotel Dubai Marina on Saturday morning to take advantage of the gym facilities (as we heard that this gym also has a great view) and we were not disappointed. The gym itself is much bigger than we expected with the 5 treadmills, cross trainers, bikes and rowing machines lined up along the windows with excellent views of the Marina.

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The staff were friendly and helpful by showing us where to exchange our Privilee cards for access cards. Sadly the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t stay to make the most of the pool facilities but, having caught a glimpse of the, we will definitely return!

Waldorf Astoria the Palm

When I first arrived at the hotel the staff were extremely helpful with signing in and swapping my Privilee card for a hotel guest access card. I headed down to the gym for a quick cardio and abs session before showering and beelining straight to the beach!

I really did feel like I was on holiday for the day. The Waldorf has such a relaxing, family holiday vibe that I pitched up on the beach with a book and barely moved for 7 hours!

The hotel offers a large family friendly swimming pool which was a buzz of activity with children playing. They also have a separate adults only pool with a Jacuzzi which was  a lot calmer and more relaxing.

Bounty Beets Breakfast Spot

Has anyone else ever chosen a breakfast spot just because it looks cute on the gram?! Well I did and I’m so glad that the food was just as lovely as the décor. Bounty Beets is located in the ground floor in Le Meridien (next to the Westin) and is the perfect place for a girly breakfast date! The best thing about it though, is that with Privilee you receive 25% off the total bill!

Habtoor Grand

We had such a relaxing day at the Habtoor Grand, the hotel is lovely and the pool area is large with slides in the pool which is great for kids. We, however, headed straight down to the beach to switch off and unwind. This end of JBR beach is lovely because it’s much quieter and you can take in all of the amazing views of the Marina / JBR skyline.

Playa Nomade

This was my first time visiting Playa Nomade and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We arrived at 10 (when it opened) but it didn’t get busy until around 1pm. So we chose a bed by the pool (with easy access in as it was quite hot) and chilled for the day. We treated ourselves to a pizza for lunch and some strawberry daqs in the afternoon (all of which tasted even better with 25% off!)

Fidelity Fitness JLT

Fidelity Fitness is the newest gym to be added to Privilee’s ever growing list of partners. It’s located in Almas Tower in JLT which is few minutes walk from the JLT metro stop which is perfect going on the way home from work. The great thing about Fidelity Fitness is that all of their classes are free to Privilee members! They have a huge timetable of spin classes which run throughout the day every day of the week. I decided to try out the TRX class which was a tough workout but I really enjoyed it. The gym itself is huge and is spread over three rooms and has a swimming pool!

Now that the weather in Dubai is heating up and we are just about to enter Ramadan, I plan on using Privilee to the maximum on weekends and making the most of the pools (and spas) throughout the summer months!

Cheers, Privilee

Beautiful Langkawi

Those who know me know just how much I love Asia and the island life, so our trip to KL and Malaysia last month was my dream combination. As you know, we spent the weekend in KL (you can read about it here if not) and then took an short flight across to Langkawi. Oh. My. Goodness. Langkawi (cue heart eye emoji). Langkawi is up there with one of my favourite islands I have ever visited and here is why:

The Island

Langkawi island is divided up into different areas which four main tourist areas: Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, Pantai Kok and Daitay Bay. When researching places to stay in Langkawi and reading different blogs about the island, I got the feeling that the different areas were similar to the Gili Islands:

  • Pantai Cenang: Known for being a popular tourist spot with the busiest beach town on Langkawi Island, housing cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, and duty-free outlets along its picturesque beach strip. It is also home to high-end resorts, chalets and budget hotels with views of the gorgeous sea. At night, it is transformed into a busy nightlife hub as visitors mingle with locals and enjoy cheap drinks with their feet in the sand at beachfront bars and lounges.

I got the feeling this would be like Gili T / Gili Air.

  • Pantai Tengah: Known for being aimed at moderate to wealthy travellers with good dining and people looking for a more laidback, calmer nightlife scene alongside a good range of restaurants, affordable spa centres.

I got the feeling this would be more like Gili Meno

  • Pantai Kok: Known for its peaceful vibe, surrounded by lush rainforest. Not a great deal of nightlife but calm and good dining options.

I got the feeling this would be more like Ubud

So after reading various blogs and articles (check out this easy read on Langkawi tourist info) we decided on Pantai Cenang due to the reviews on its gorgeous beach and great dining options.

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The Beach

One of the absolute highlights of Panti Cenang is the gorgeous beach. Pure white sand and crystal clear water, it really was paradise. Every morning after breakfast we would go for a walk along the beach front and see an array of sea life from starfish, crabs, hermit crabs (my fave) and sadly a few washed up jellyfish. But the morning walks along the beach were the is perfect way to start the day – and to catch a good tan as well.

We stayed at the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa which has a private beach attached that was lovely and peaceful. But as you walk further along the beach it becomes full of life and buzzing with a mixture of tourists and locals. There’s a great selection of water sports and vendors offering parasailing and island hopping trips. There is also a selection of bars and restaurants that offer casual beach dining and fire spinning shows in the evening.

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The Food

We were in our element with all of the fresh seafood on offer in Langkawi. A lot of the restaurants have live seafood stations were you can choose lobster, crab and fish caught locally. These are a selection of our favourite restaurants in Langkawi:

  • Orkid Ria Seafood Restaurant – this restaurant is rated as one of the best seafood restaurants on the island and the queue out the door speaks for itself!
  • Islandish Restaurant – another restaurant with live seafood which was just as tasty as Orchid Ria but much better value for money.
  • India Palace – honestly, some of the best Indian food I have eaten in my life! We ordered a selection of samosas, poppadoms, butter chicken served in clay pot and prawn biriyani. The food was amazing.
  • The Cliff – this restaurant had absolutely breath-taking views at sunset with a very romantic vibe. The staff were extremely friendly and the food was delicious (I would absolutely recommend the chicken in cashew nut sauce YUM).

The Activities

Half day island hopping tour

We booked on to the half day island hopping tour with one of the local vendors in the town (I can’t remember the name but there were several stalls popped up that offer the same trips). We tried to barter but the prices were standard at each vendor and we paid RM 65 per person for the tour. We were picked up from our hotel and taken to the far end of the beach where all of the boats were moored up in the sea but we were required to wade through to be able to get on the boat.

The first stop on our trip was Pregnant Maiden Lake. We were told that the island was named as this because it looks like a pregnant lady laying down …. we will just take their word for it to get to the lake we had to climb several hundred steps up and then down to the lake but the views were absolutely beautiful once we made it down. There are a range of activities there including kayaking and peddle boats but we decided to just sit on the edge of the pontoon and relax for the hour.

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The next stop was to see the eagles feeding. I didn’t realize that they tempted the eagles in with crab meat but it was a crazy sight to see them swooping down at such a speed so close to the boat.

The final stop on the tour was the beautiful Pulau Beras Basah island. The beach was perfect and we just walked around and found a spot to sit and relax. And we really did relax until the monkeys came and began trying to steal everyone’s food and bags! We stayed well clear of them but they managed to get their hands on the crisps and noodles of the couple next to us!

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The trip was actually a lot more physically intense than we realized and there was a lovely little lady called Patricia, who we made friends with on the trip, who at 82 struggled with getting on and off the boat but still got off at every stop on the tour to enjoy her day! What an inspiring woman.

Lunch in the padi fields

The Laman Padi rice fields were located just out the back of our hotel so we decided to visit one lunch time. We sat in the fields in one of the little wooden huts which was such a beautiful setting to have lunch. We ordered the sharing platter with beef rendang, rice, soup, prawn crackers and a salad. The beef rendang was lovely and the food was served on a banana leaf which felt really authentic. The food was really reasonably priced costing approximately 50RM for the sharing platter.

You can also do a tour of the fields and visit the rice museum which seemed a very popular activity with the tourists coming into Pantai Cenang.

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Other activities in Langkawi

The island has so much to offer and we didn’t get the chance to experience all of the wonderful trips and activities that we wanted to! We had read about the beautiful Seven Wells Waterfall that is located on the north west side of the island. We also wanted to take the cable car ride up to the peak of the mountains, we had been told that you can view the whole island from up there!

We left Langkawi feeling so relaxed and refreshed that we were ready to tackle our next crazy Asian city : Singapore!

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