If you’ve been considering Thailand as a getaway option for the next long weekend, here’s some good news. Getting visas is easier now, with the Thai immigration bureau’s launch of a new eVisa service in collaboration with VFS Global on 14 February. Travellers can apply online for eVisa On Arrival (eVOA) at Thailandevoa.vfsevisa.com. The documents required can be submitted online and the visa fee of 2,000 Thai baht (about ₹4,500) and service fee of 600 Thai baht can be paid via card, net banking, or other online payment options. Travellers will receive a travel authorization within 24-72 hours of applying. Armed with this, they can travel to Thailand, and save time on arrival by going straight to immigration counters dedicated to eVisa holders. An Express eVOA service is also available for an additional fee, guaranteeing a response within 24 hours. The visa fee has been waived for travellers applying for an eVisa before 30 April.
Starry skies in New Zealand
New Zealand’s Stewart Island is the world’s newest dark sky sanctuary, recognized by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). Only the fifth such sanctuary in the world, it is the second spot in the country to receive such recognition after the Dark Sky Sanctuary on Great Barrier Island off North Island, north of Auckland, for its exceptional night sky. Located off the southern end of South Island, Stewart Island is a national park where visitors can see many native species that have not thrived on the larger islands, such as the yellow-eyed penguin and the flightless bird known as the weka. It is also one of the best spots to see a kiwi in the wild. The island’s Maori name, Rakiura, is commonly translated to “glowing skies", a reference to its glorious sunsets. It is also a great spot to see the Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights, the less well-known cousin of the popular Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
Planning a holiday? Consider South Africa and Israel
Get set for your timelines to be swamped with holiday pictures from Israel and South Africa, if they aren’t already. Both destinations are rapidly gaining popularity with Indian travellers, and are ramping up facilities to cash in on the trend. The South African consulate is set to accredit vetted travel agents and tour operators in India to allow the fast-tracking of visa applications submitted through them. They are also working to reduce visa issuance time from the current five-seven days.Israel has cut visa fees from ₹1,700 to ₹1,100 and has also initiated fast-track visa processing. With Jerusalem counted as one of the world’s fastest-growing travel destinations, both Air India, which flies New Delhi-Tel Aviv, and El Al, which flies Mumbai-Tel Aviv, have increased capacity, increasing frequency and deploying larger planes, respectively. Israel is also working on adding to its inventory of hotel rooms. In 2018, Tel Aviv saw a slew of new openings, including some in renovated landmarks, like the Jaffa in a 19th century hospital, and the Setai in an Ottoman-era fortress.
—Compiled by Neha Dara.