Tripologist: Ancient city a jaw-dropping draw for visitors

My husband and I are thinking of visiting Jordan, including Petra and the Dead Sea, but I don't know much about that part of the world. I am thinking of joining a tour group. Would you recommend places to visit and a tour operator please. And what is the best time to visit the country? We have up to 10 days.
- M. Teo, Oatley.

Most of Jordan is desert, yet that only heightens the drama of its oases, wildlife reserves and archaeological treasures.

This is also one of the most progressive and welcoming of all the Arab states and, right now, one of the most stable. Most Jordanian journeys will include Amman and the capital's souks offer the customary Middle Eastern array, but the single reason that most travellers find themselves in Jordan is Petra.

The 2000-year-old Nabataean city is completely sculpted from stone - staircases, stadiums, temples, royal tombs and the former treasury, which provides Jordan with its tourist icon.

The entrance to the city takes you though the Siq, a narrow slit in the sandstone, which effectively blindfolds you to Petra's glories until the last jaw-dropping moment. Jordan is one of the traditional homes of the Bedouin, and the encampments of these nomads are a common sight in the country's deserts. Hop aboard a camel and indulge your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies.

Spas are another Jordanian highlight, with deep immersion in the Dead Sea mud a specialty.

Active Travel is a Sydney-based tour operator with tours of Jordan.

Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) are the best times to visit, with April the sweet spot.

The website of the Jordan Tourism Board is another good resource.


My husband and I would like to spend two weeks in August 2013 in Normandy and Brittany. We are interested in historical and cultural towns and villages but not WWII sites. Which do you suggest we see and is it feasible to use trains and buses to travel in this area?
- M. Kanakis, Dover Heights.

The highlights include Mont-St-Michel and the port of Honfleur, a favourite subject of the French Impressionists. Bayeux is home to the famous tapestry and Monet's garden at Giverny is another must-see. Beuvron-en-Auge is one of the prettiest villages in all of Normandy, notable for its half-timbered buildings in the distinctive style of the region.

If you Google "Introducing Brittany and Normandy" you can download an informative PDF guide from Lonely Planet that will give you plenty of ideas for your journey.

Otherwise, the Brittany and Normandy travel guide, available from Lonely Planet's online shop, is a worthwhile investment.

Buses and trains are the best way to explore the region. Remember, you'll be visiting in peak season and many attractions will be crowded at this time.

Kyoto a better bet than Tokyo

I am flying from Sydney to Tokyo next March to spend 6½ days in Japan. I was planning on three days' skiing in Hakuba and the rest in Tokyo but everyone tells me it would be a travesty to go to Japan and not see Kyoto. I am now thinking to travel from Narita to Hakuba on Monday, to Kyoto on Wednesday afternoon/evening, then back to Tokyo on Friday morning until flying to Sydney on Sunday night. My problem is getting clear information on travel within Japan, even using Hyperdia. Should I buy a JR Pass? Can you please suggest a solution — or should I just cut places out of the trip altogether?
- E. Thompson, Sydney.

Kyoto is Japan's pre-eminent attraction. Most visitors find the city's temples, gardens and the backstreets of the Gion district a far more compelling attraction than anything Tokyo has to offer.

The ski part of the equation is going to eat up your limited time. Train and bus from Narita to Hakuba via Nagano is quickest, yet this journey will take at least 3½ hours. The next leg of your journey, from Hakuba to Kyoto, will take about 4½ hours.

From Narita, you need to take the Narita Express to Tokyo station, then the Nagano Bullet Train (Asama Shinkansen) to Nagano. A bus departs from Nagano station to Hakuba every hour.

To get from Hakuba to Kyoto, take the Chuo limited express (Shinano) from Hakuba Station to Nagoya, then change to the Sanyo Shinkansen for Kyoto.

The 7-day Japan Rail Pass, priced at 37,800 yen ($458), is the way to go. Note that this pass is not valid on Mizuho and Nozomi ultra express train services.

If you really want to push yourself, you can fit it all in but I'd be inclined to devote another day to Kyoto and sacrifice one of the Tokyo days.

Rather than relying on the Hyperdia website for your travel plans, talk to a travel agent. Go to the Japan National Tourism Organisation website and click on "Find a tour package" for a list of Japan travel experts.

Avoid those high call costs

I am travelling to South Africa and then Florida and California this year. I want to take my iPhone, keeping my current number, and an iPad. Can I have international prepaid roaming and what dongle and so on would I need for broadband on the iPad?
- D. Manning, Duncraig, WA.

You could simply stick with your Australian telco, in which case you would pay a ridiculous price when you log on to the internet and use data services when offshore.

Assuming your iPad is the 3G version, a better option would be to buy a micro SIM card, which gives you access to discount-priced data in most countries. These are available from several providers such as GO-SIMOneSimCardWorldSIM and TravelSIM.

Even with one of these discount service providers, data rates are relatively steep in South Africa, and you might be better off restricting your use to when you have access to free wi-fi, such as at hotels and cafes.

In the US, one of the best deals on a prepaid data SIM card is from T-Mobile, which is available from their outlets.

If you want to keep your number and use your iPhone when you're overseas, you will pay a hefty charge, even when receiving the call. Do an internet search for "call divert using Skype" and you should find how to set up call divert to avoid this problem.