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Overseas holidays

Marrakech festival wows tourists

An arts festival in Marrakech offers plenty of alluring sights and sounds for visitors to the North African travel hotspot. Holidaymakers lucky enough to experience the annual fair get to witness the talents of artists from Morocco, as well as the rest of Africa, Asia, Europe and beyond across several thrilling days. Travellers planning their flights and airport transfers to and from Marrakech should note that the event usually takes place in July and features dancers, theatre troupes, fortune tellers, snake charmers and myriad other delights.

As well as being one of the most popular events of its type in Morocco, it lays claim to being one of the highlights of the cultural calendar across the world, pulling in coach loads of tourists eager to soak in its unique ambience.

The dramatic El Badi Palace ruins play host to much of the festivities, with a number of events also taking place at the main square in Marrakech. Having been destroyed in the 1600s by Moulay Ismai who built another palace in Meknes, the El Badi Palace ruins make for a historic backdrop to the proceedings. If that's not enough to entice flocks of tourists to pack their bags and head from London to Stansted Airport for flights to Marrakech, the sensual aromas and flavours emanating from the cafes and food stalls around the main square might well prove irresistible in what is an extraordinary city. Traditional entertainers, magicians and mysterious storytellers will also be on hand to add to the magic of the experience. A stroll in the picturesque Majorelle Gardens is a popular option for a wind-down from the non-stop action of the festival, while the palm and olive trees in Menara gardens also provide shade and relaxation for recharging the batteries.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Introducing Cambodia's top temples

Cambodia is a sizzling hot holiday destination this year, and with fantastic food, idyllic beaches and amazing historic sites on offer it’s easy to see why. One of the country’s most popular tourist attractions in undoubtedly its ancient temples, of which Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom are the most iconic. The famous Angkor Wat site comprises 1,200 temples, including the main temple of the same name, all surrounded by a moat. Built by a king, Angkor Wat is testament to the once-great Khmer empire which stretched from Malaysia to Burma.

Bayon temple Angkor Thom is in the centre of the last of the extravagant Khmer cities to be built. More modern than Angkor Wat, it marks the beginning of the Buddhist influence in the region and features more than 50 towers. Each side of a tower has a face carved into it out of the stone, which some refer to collectively as the Mona Lisa of southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Ta Phrom has puzzled visitors for years: is it a tree supporting a temple or a temple supporting a tree? Seeing monks wander between stone embedded with tree roots and branches after centuries of erosion makes this destination more than a historic monument – the location was even used in the films Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones.

Copyright © Press Association 2013

Writer wins 10-day Arctic trip

A traveller who documented his journey with Mexican Huichol Indians has scooped National Geographic Traveller’s annual travel writing competition. Ben Taub’s winning article, called ‘Set in Stone’, explored how the Huichol Indians’ heritage is intertwined with the rocky landscape of western Mexico. The 300-word piece was deemed to be the best of six shortlisted candidates, earning him an amazing 10-day summer trip to the Arctic worth an estimated £10,000.

Pat Riddell, editor of National Geographic Traveller UK, said: "Ben's entry particularly stood out for its drama, sense of place and insight into the Huichol Indians. "More importantly, it's very succinctly focused, the structure is well balanced and the language remains beautifully descriptive - a very worthy winner." National Geographic Traveller UK launched its Travel Writing Competition last October in a bid to identify several budding travel writers of the future. Entrants were asked to produce 300 words about their most inspirational travel experience, which reportedly attracted several high-quality articles.

Mr Taub could be flying from Heathrow to Svalbard before boarding an ice-strengthened expedition ship to begin his trip around Spitsbergen island. The voyage, which has been provided by Quark Expeditions, will provide outstanding views of glaciers, volcanoes and maybe even polar bears as they travel around the Svalbard archipelago under the midnight sun.

Lijiang ever-popular with tourists

The number of tourists travelling to Lijiang has doubled in the past year, rising from 4 million to 8 million.

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed city, situated in China’s south-western Yunnan province, boasts a number of charming canals, weeping willows and two-storey mudbrick houses built into the hillside. Lijiang used to be a trade centre for tea and silk, as well as a meeting point for the dozens of ethnic minorities who lived in the mountains around it - and it is still a popular hotspot with travellers today. The city is more like south-east Asia than mainland China, with its mild climate and relaxed air. Snow-capped mountains on the horizon provide the perfect backdrop, while blue skies and warm days make it difficult to leave.

Some canals, dating back 800 years, are still in use and the gentle sound of water is a constant soundtrack in the Old Town. Chinglish signage across Asia provides English-speaking tourists with no end of amusement, but Lijiang is in a league of its own. The signs are not just clumsy English translations; rather, they don’t make sense at all!

For example, some from the Old Town read: “Civilised behaviour of tourists is another bright scenery rational shopping”; “Enjoy the cool under the tree beautify the homeland on us”; “Less footprints, more aroma”; “Grass is napping, please don’t disturb” - all adding to the charm of the city.

Copyright Press Association 2013

Thailand braced for festival tourism boost

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) believes that the 2013 Songkran festival holiday will attract 2.7 million domestic and foreign visitors. The holiday, which is also known as the Thai New Year, is celebrated between April 12-16.

TAT researchers have noted that hotel occupancies in major tourist destinations in the country - such as Hat Yai, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pataya - are reportedly over 70% for the period of the festival. Anyone thinking about getting down to their nearest airport and heading out to the country to enjoy the festivities will not be alone, with a total of 177 charter flights scheduled to arrive from major markets such as Russia and China.

TAT has a visitor arrival target of 24.09 million for this year and the totals this month are expected to go a long way towards achieving it. During the first two months of this year the amount of visitors to the country has already reached 4.56 million, which is almost a fifth (18.8%) more than during the same period at the start of last year. Between March 1-27 the amount of international visitors flying into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport totalled 1,230,296, which is 11.93% higher than the same period in 2012. Alongside international tourists, the event is also expected to see an increase in the number of people leaving Bangkok to enjoy celebrations in their hometowns or with family. There are "Songkran Splendour 2013" festivals being held in 12 provinces, including Chiang Mai, Suphan Buri, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Chon Buri, Samut Prakan, Sukhothai, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Phanom, Nong Khai, Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and Phuket.