5 places not to miss in Jordan

Colorful rocks at the Dead Sea

Every time I think back on my few weeks spent in Jordan, I wish I had had more time to discover this ancient land. In any of the recommended destinations below you could easily spend a week and not get bored of it. Anyways, Jordan is a fascinating country with loads of culture, history, friendly people, great food and sunshine. If you are not sure what is a must and what not to miss during your stay, just follow my advice and book your trip to these five amazing places.

1 Of course, the ancient city of Petra is on top of my list. Although this UNESCO World Heritage site is around 3 hours away from Amman, and the easiest way to get there is to pay for an organized tour, I recommend arranging your trip by yourself. One thing that can destroy the magical feeling this place oozes is 50 noisy tourists walking by your side. My advice is to rent a car and drive down to Petra in the evening. The best way to avoid the crowd is to stay for the night and start your day really early.

Petra Treasury
The famous Treasury at Petra

To get to the main site, the well-known Treasury, you can walk, or take either a horse or a carriage. Before the famous carved out façade appears between the steep red rock walls, you will pass through a long and narrow passage. It just adds to the suspense. There is not much to see inside the buildings carved out of the rock. It’s just the monumentality of these hidden Nabataean remains that will take your breath away. Of course the Treasury is just the beginning of your trip. Further into this old town you will find the royal tombs, ruins of the Great Temple and if you don’t mind walking (at least 10 km in total) the Monastery on top of a mountain. The place offers great views along the way. As you will be there for several hours, a good sun cream is a must have!

Palm trees by the sea at Aqaba,
Aqaba is the best place to chill in Jordan.

2 Once you are on the road to the south, you might as well drive down to Aqaba. After buying a short strip of land from the Saudis, Jordan got itself the favorite vacation spot of the locals. The short coastline is the number one option of Jordanians for some relax time. With its access to the Yamanieh coral reef, this area offers great fun for the divers, snorkelers and nature lovers also.

Rock arch in Wadi Rum
A spectacular rock arch in Wadi Rum.

3 Your next stop has to be Wadi Rum. Not so far from Aqaba and Petra is a simply breathtaking valley of the Bedouin people. Imagine a remote desert area with impressive monoliths around it. It all looks like a setting to a movie. Your best bet is to take part in an organized Bedouin night in one of their camps. They offer accomodation in pretty comfy tents, serve food and offer to take you on a camel ride by the sunrise. The best feeling, though is just sitting by the campfire stargazing, miles away from any form of civilization.

Temple of Hercules in Amman
The ruins of the Temple of Hercules in Amman.

4 Heading back to the capital will probably sound like a good option after embracing the desert and rocky landscapes of the south. Amman is a bustling city that offers a mix of old and modern, Middle Eastern and European. Start off in the Souk, and breathe in the smell of the city in the spice market. Arab markets can be overwhelming with merchants competing for your attention, but this is part of the deal, so don’t get shy. It is worth walking up the Citadel and checking out the Roman ruins of the Temple of Hercules and the view of the city. Nearby you will find the remains of the Roman Theatre of old Philadelphia. When you get hungry, make sure to also enjoy plenty of tasty arab specialties. There is no doubt about it: I had the best tabboulehs, shish kebabs and koftas in Amman. Find out more about Jordanian cuisine here.

5 No visit to Jordan can end without a trip to the Dead Sea. Just half an hour from Amman you can experience the unique feeling of floating atop the extremely salty water. A Dead Sea mud bath is also fun and refreshing. A personal advice: if you put some of it on your face make sure not to follow your instincts and wash it off with the sea water – your eyes will be killing you afterwards.

A coastline with salt at the Dead Sea
Salty coastline by the Dead Sea.

Some nearby destinations are also worth your time. The Baptism Site is said to be near the Jordan river by the Dead Sea. A 20 minute ride away is Mount Nebo. On top of the mountain you will not only find the Memorial Church, the supposed burial place of Moses, but you will also enjoy a great view of the Holy Land. Needless to say, I can not imagine a better end to your trip to Jordan.

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Wadi rum view with a tree in the desert

Koh Samui – A treat to your senses

thai boats on the beach

From the moment you step foot on Samui, a special journey through your senses will begin. You will be rewarded with stimuli along the way and feel overloaded with energy when you leave. The island is not big, but the opportunities it offers are endless. To get the most out of your stay, you have to balance between your options. I will share with you my personal favorites of the island to help you better plan and enjoy your trip.

An important question is where to stay. The most popular spots are along the eastern shores of Samui. Chaweng and Lamai offer a great variety of hotels and hostels, numerous restaurants, bars and tour agencies. If you prefer a convenient and bustling area for your stay, anywhere near these two towns will be a good choice. I took another route and stayed in the remote region of Taling Ngam. My hotel was located on the western side of Samui, half an hour away from the touristy cities. In retrospect I feel this was a good decision as I was able to take a taxi or ride my scooter to town any time I wanted to, while I enjoyed the serene beaches and quiet villages of Taling Ngam.

Talking about scooters… I guess this is the cheapest, most efficient (and fun) way to get around on the island. In a day or two you can visit the most important spots and never wait for a ride. Usually the hotels can organize the rent for you, but it’s easy to find rental offices in the bigger cities also. There are a few quite interesting places to check out. It’s worth starting with the Big Buddha – a 12 meter statue in the north of Samui. This is a bit out of the way, but a nice introduction to the religious aspect of the island. If you prefer to stay only in the southern region Wat Rattanakosin is not only a place to see a Buddha statue but also offers a fantastic view of the southern shores of Koh Samui.

Ang Thong National Park beach
The beach where you arrive at Ang Thong National Park

If you want to get the chills, pay a visit to the mummified monk near Lamai. Supposedly the monk died while meditating and his body didn’t decompose. A weird experience for a Westerner but a place of worship for a Buddhist thai. One more spot I liked a lot was the Na Muang waterfalls. Still on the southern part of the island and a nice little track into the woods.

Once in Samui, you will surely spend some time on the beach. My favorite ones were again in Taling Ngam and also in Bophut. Chaweng and Lamai are nice but crowded. During peak season talented local vendors will try to sell you something you don’t need every 2 minutes. They walk down the beach keeping 100 meters of distance, so by the time one leaves and you lay down on your towel, the next one will arrive. After a day on the beach treat yourself with a thai massage either in your hotel or still on the beach.

view from Ang Thong National Park
The breathtaking views from a cliff in Ang Thong National Park

Agencies offer several daytrips you can choose from. One you can NOT miss is a boat trip to Ang Thong Marine National Park. This place is majestic. You arrive to a set of uninhabited and protected islands that look like paradise on Earth. If you can, take part in the seriously arduous hike to the top of the cliff of the main island. It is only for the most fit as you have to climb on sharp rocks and pull yourself up with ropes, but your reward is the most fantastic sight you will see in Thailand. Some tours also offer snorkeling or kayaking around the park which is great fun. If you are a diving enthusiast, the coral reefs of Koh Tao are a better choice. There are also organized tours from Samui and the service is professional. As far as I know you can also take lessons in Koh Tao to become a certified diver. You can learn more about Samui diving here.

beachside dinner table
Beachside dinner to end a fantastic day

Koh Samui offers a great variety of delicious thai food in reasonable prices. And I don’t mean Pad Thai necessarily. Make sure to try Tom kha kai (a coconut soup with chicken) or Tom yum (a spicy shrimp soup) to start with. Any fried rice or curry could be a good choice to continue with. My personal favorite is a crab curry called Boo Paht Pong Karee. The variety of fruits is simply astonishing – lychees, dragon fruits, ripe mangos, pineapples will make a great juice or an afternoon snack. For some more ideas on what you can choose from, click here.

On your last evening, make sure to light a sky lantern and send your troubles and problems away with it. They are considered to bring good luck, and who knows, maybe they will help to bring you back to this magical island one day.

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View from Koh Samui lookout point

 

Kuala Lumpur – the Southeast Asian melting pot

Most of you guys spending your holidays in Malaysia are probably travelling directly to the island destinations like Langkawi, Tioman or Sipadan. Fair enough, what is a Southeast Asian holiday like without the beach, right? About Malaysian islands you can find some useful info here.

At the same time many of you will have a layover in the capital Kuala Lumpur. This metropolis is an Asian melting pot – here old and modern walk hand in hand, Indian, Chinese and Malay traditions live next to each-other, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian religions coexist. So why not spend a day or two there? I visited KL for a few days, and I found plenty of great places to choose from, so I thought I should share my itinerary with you in my travel blog.

My first morning in KL, watching families having fun in KLCC Park.

I started off my day with checking out the world renowned Petronas Towers area. I know, I know, this might sound like a mainstream idea, but for me it was a good spot to slowly start familiarizing myself with KL. I loved watching people running and families playing at the KLCC Park. After getting a coffee, I went up the skydeck of the towers. All in all, it was a great way to start my day a bit slower. Believe me, it did get rough later!

At KLCC station (right below the towers) I hopped on the monorail and headed towards Masjid Jamek. I came across a nice and peaceful mosque, Masjid Jamek itself. It is situated in sort of a peninsula where two rivers (Klang and Gombak) meet.

Merdeka square in Kuala Lumpur
The Sultan Abdul Samad building on Merdeka square.

I took a walk towards Merdeka square. This is basically the main square of the city where the Independence Parade is held every year. Although I missed that one, the Sultan Abdul Samad building was worth the visit also. It is the old centre for the British colonial administration and it is located just by the square. You can’t miss it.

By this time I was up to speed, the rhythm of the city engulfed me. It was time to head to Bukit Bintang. For me this was the absolute highlight of the day. The quickest way to get there is to take a cab, but you can walk also if you don’t mind the heat and 100% humidity. Bukit Bintang is a shopping and entertainment area of the city and a gastro paradise. I walked directly to the Central market area where I was looking for the Kasturi walk. It is a lane within the market with some reasonably priced merchandise, cultural performances and souvenirs. I got hungry and as I read about Jalan Alor, a magical alley of Chinese street food, I decided to venture further into this area. I was astonished and fell in love with this street food paradise. I was seated at a plastic table literally on the street in a jungle of restaurants and smells, but authentic food can’t get any better than that. My personal recommendation is grilled stingray. Exquisite! Here are some more great choices to consider while in KL.

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
Colorful buildings by Bukit Bintang.

In the afternoon I took a cool stroll in Taman Burung, the world’s largest covered bird park, and in the Botanical Gardens next to it. Trust me, that was a refreshing trip. 

At dusk Menara Kuala Lumpur was also a great experience. This is basically a TV tower right next to the centre of the city. You have an amazing view on the neighbouring highrises, and on the Petronas Towers. Probably this was the best place for taking pictures of the skyline.

In the evening, if you are still able to move your feet, plan a visit to the SkyBar at the Traders Hotel, right next to the KLCC Park, where you started your day. That’s what I did. You can grab a bite, have a drink by the bar’s pool on the 33rd floor and enjoy the view of the illuminated Petronas Towers.

Golden statue at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur
The way up to the shrine at Batu Caves.

For those lucky ones who stay for another day in the city (you should!), I have another recommendation. Although it is a short ride from the city centre, Batu Caves is an absolute must-visit sight in the cooler morning hours. The place is one of the most important hindu shrines with a huge golden Buddha standing below the hill where the caves can be found. To reach the top, you have to put on your comfy shoes and climb hundreds of stairs, but the experience is worth your efforts. The easiest way to get to Batu is by taxi. Warning: cheeky monkeys are waiting for tourists arriving to the caves downstairs – hold on to your food, cameras and sunglasses to avoid trouble…

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