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Great getaways!

Jai Arjun Singh | January 17, 2004

Indian travellers used to be timid and unenterprising and headed for familiar tourist hotspots like London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.

But many Indians have now visited and re-visited these tried-and-tested spots and are hungering for new experiences.

Says Vikas Khanduri, regional manager, north India, Cox & Kings, "Indian tourists are more open to discovering new places, rather than going to the same two destinations in each country."

Khanduri says the number of holiday trips overseas is on the rise because "unlike earlier, when families would travel abroad only if they had a long break, now people are amenable to making even short-haul trips to countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka".

So what are the new destinations you can consider in these countries -- Sri Lanka, for instance? Traditionally, those travelling to the these island have looked mainly at Colombo and Ben Tota. That's not the case any more.

A popular option now is Hikkaduwa beach, situated 98 km from Colombo. Here, the more adventurous tourists can try snorkelling and diving, but there's also the option of hiring glass-bottomed boats if you want to admire the colourful creatures of the ocean without getting too close to them!

If golf and greenery are more your scene, Nuwara Eliya might be a nicer bet. Situated 180 km from Colombo, this is tea country that has grass-covered plains and one of the best-known golf courses in the country.

For Delhiites, Sri Lanka Holidays offers a package of Rs 14,300 plus $125 per person for a four-day/five night stay in Colombo or, alternatively, two nights in Colombo and two nights in Ben Tota.

The package includes hotel expenses and travel from airport to hotel. Pay $40 more per night and Nuwara Eliya is thrown into the mix. If you want to go from Mumbai to Colombo and back, the package is Rs 18,500 plus $140 (and an additional $55 for Nuwara Eliya).

Places to discover in Thailand include Koh Samui, which is renowned for its resorts and beaches. Samui is a good bet if what you seek is a quiet holiday in a place that hasn't succumbed to the relentless march of commercialisation.

Sure, there are bars and nightclubs but not of the intrusive variety; none of your big hotel resorts and noisy discotheques here. "It's nature at its unexploited best," says travel agent Sanjay Gulati.

A consolidated package (including travel from Delhi to Bangkok to Koh Samui and back) provides three-night accommodation at a four-star hotel for Rs 31,500; this includes breakfast and half-day sightseeing. The corresponding package costs Rs 28,500 if you don't mind staying at a three-star hotel.

Another attractive holiday destination in Thailand is Chiang Mai, popularly known as the Rose of the North and situated 700 km from Bangkok, on the Mae Ping river basin.

The region mainly comprises jungles and mountains, with many national parks, all the better to bring out the latent naturalist in you. Again, you'll have to go via Bangkok.

Travel costs from Delhi to Bangkok to Delhi on Thai Airways are approximately Rs 26,000, and Cox & Kings has a $59 per person package that includes two nights' accommodation with breakfast at the Hotel Chiang Mai Hill -- with a half-day city tour thrown in.

Thomas Cook offers two-night/three-day accommodation for $42 per person.

Malaysia is always a popular holiday spot with Indian tourists; Cox & Kings' Khanduri says it accounted for the largest number of Indian travellers in 2003 (despite the SARS-related decline). But for most, a trip to Malaysia has meant visiting Kuala Lumpur, Genting or Penang.

If you're looking for an interesting alternative to these, try Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state.

There are plenty of ways you can make use of your time here, from mountain trekking (up Mount Kota Kinabalu, one of the highest peaks in south-east Asia) to nature-appreciation (at the Kota Kinabalu National Park, which is home to over 1,000 species of orchids and 300 species of birds) to shopping for antiques and handicrafts at the street fair.

There are also many options for the sporty, including golf, wind surfing and white-water rafting.

You'll have to travel to Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur. The Delhi-Kuala Lumpur trip costs Rs 21,000 plus taxes. Cox & Kings offers two-night hotel accommodation at Kota Kinabalu with a half-day city tour for $114 per person.

If hardcore adventure is what you're after, and you don't mind looking beyond the immediate neighborhood, try out Mount Taranaki, in New Zealand's North Island. What's so special about Taranaki, you ask?

Well, this mountain "played" the role of Mount Fujiyama in the new Tom Cruise-starrer The Last Samurai, which was set in Japan but filmed in New Zealand.

In the wake of this publicity, Taranaki is set to become a centre of attraction in the country and you could be among the first to discover it. Things to do include kayaking, skiing in winter, horse trekking along bush tracks or taking a helicopter flight over the crater of the mountain.

Naturally, the route is slightly more circuitous than to destinations within Asia. Thai Airways offers flights to Auckland (which is the closest of New Zealand's major cities to Taranaki) via Bangkok for Rs 56,960 in economy class (this is valid for the next eight months).

You can also travel by Singapore Airlines for Rs 59,800. Once you're in New Zealand, Maori Journeys provides seven-day/seven-night and five-day/five-night tour options by deluxe coach, from Auckland to Taranaki and back. We did say the trip was for the adventurous!

  • At Hikkaduwa beach, adventurous travellers can try snorkelling, but you can also hire glass-bottom boats.
  • Mount Taranaki figured prominently in the new Tom Cruise-starrer The Last Samurai.
  • The Kota Kinabalu National Park is home to over 300 species of birds.

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