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MCI (P) 134/03/2013

MAY-JUN 2013

ISSUE 51 Culture Issue

Myanmar | North America | Central Asia Photo by: Gunther Deichmann


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R EA K: B T R O 03 SH AR GUIDE 04 GE AVEL NEWS 11 TR VEL TIPS stivals A e R F T d l r 20 PSHOT: Wo SNA

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For a list of our distribution outlets, visit www.sportsandtravelonline.com. Sports and Travel is a publication of Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd (Singapore). All articles published are in good faith and based on bona fide information available to The Publisher at the time of press. The Publisher accepts no responsibility other than that stipulated by law. The Publisher also accepts no responsibilty for unsolicited manuscripts, transparencies or other materials. All rights are reserved and no part of this publication may be reproduced in part or full without the previous written permission of The Publisher. Neither can any part be stored or recorded, by any means. The opinions expressed in The Publication are those of the contributors and not necessarily endorsed by The Publisher. This publication and the name are owned solely by Lennox and Ooi Media Pte Ltd, 391B Orchard Road, #13-09 Ngee Ann City, Tower B, Singapore 239974. Email: enquiry@sportsandtravelonline.com. Sports + Travel Singapore is published bimonthly and distributed throughout Singapore. Trademarks and copyrights for all other products, logos and depictions contained herein are the properties of their respective trademark and copyright owners. All colour separation and printing by Fabulous Printers Pte Ltd. Singapore MCI (P) 134/03/2013


Roots and Shoots

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Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writers Konrad Clapp Samantha Pereira Creative Director Lynn Ooi

As summer season approaches and the travel bug bites, plenty of airlines are offering amazing bargains on airfares. With the school holiday in tow, it’s not uncommon to encounter crowds at airports worldwide. However, as you head out of major cities and into off-the-beaten paths, there’s still the opportunity to experience some solitude.

This issue, we’ll be highlighting some cultural gems around the world where you can try and find that summer solace. For those looking for a classic summer getaway, Fiji offers plenty of sun, sand and underwater treasures. Above water, Fiji’s history and culture – from thatched mountain villages to WWII historic sites – are also worth exploring. Closer to home, Sabah has always been known as a land of tribal diversity – here, you can choose your type of jungle activity and complement it with a trip to a tribal village, which range from stilted over-water Bajau settlements to longhouses of the Murut. Myanmar, the ‘it’ destination, is still relatively unspoiled by mass tourism. Even along its well-trodden trails, you can still find some hidden treasures at Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. From lesser-known temples tucked in villages and mountains to rubbles of stupas scattered along the lakeside, Myanmar never fails to beguile travellers. Road holds a special draw: this issue features the Central Asia portion where the caravanserai of old are dotted throughout Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Whether you tackle all the sites of the Silk Road, or drop in on a few towns along the way, it isn’t difficult to imagine them in the height of their glory. Those heading to the UK (which will be home to the Rugby World Cup 2015) might consider tackling some classic ‘English’ outdoor activities, like rambling along Hadrian’s Wall or rolling down a hill with a wheel of cheese. Much further afield, the US state of New Mexico is where you can explore some of its native history in the many pueblos and adobes scattered across this desert state; if you prefer colder adventure, head to Yukon (Canada), where you can relive the Gold Rush that happened in the 19th century in the town of Carcross.

Designer Marilyn Wong General Manager Aaron Stewart

Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 242A River Valley Road Singapore 238299 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com sportsntravel@gmail.com Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 Fax +852 2961 4800 enquiry@sportsandtravel.com.hk

Advertising Sales Singapore Aaron Stewart, Lennox & Ooi Media aaron.stewart@sportsandtravelonline.com

Hong Kong Chris Ng cng@sportsandtravel.com.hk

Contributors Gunther Deichmann, Ken Berg, Laura Dewar, Prabhu Silvam

Special Thanks Fiji.travel Travel Yukon Visit England Visit Finland and many, many others!

Until then, Happy Trails! OUR WEBSITE: www.sportsandtravelonline.com OUR FACEBOOK PAGE: fb.com/SportsandTravelSingapore OUR BLOG: http://sportsandtravelsg.wordpress.com


Kanchanaburi | Thailand Thailand's third largest province, Kanchanaburi is home to jungles and mountainous terrain dotted with plenty of historical treasures. From caves once inhabited by Neolithic man to virgin forests and tranquil rivers, it is a region ripe for outdoor adventure. Bordering Myanmar where the landmark Three Pagodas Pass lies, Kanchanaburi is also steeped in WWII history during which the Japanese built a railway and the infamous bridge over the River Kwai. Today, it is a popular base to explore nearby cultural, natural and historical sites, in addition to hiking, elephant trekking and rafting.

RECOMMENDED NUMBER OF DAYS: 4 DAYS MUST SEE

> THREE PAGODAS PASS: A border crossing to Myanmar, it was once a strategic military route during the Ayutthaya and early Ratanakosin eras. A line of 3 small white pagodas (chedis) gives this place its namesake, where Phaya Tong Su (an active market) showcases soughtafter products from both countries, including woodcarvings, woven fabrics and forest products.

DEATH RAILWAY & WAR CEMETERY: During WWII, the Japanese built a 415km-long railway line through the Three Pagodas Pass between Thailand and Myanmar using forced labour, including western POWs. As many of them perished, the line was given the name Death Railway. The line included the infamous 'Bridge of the River Kwai', which was imported from Java. Today, the railway line is currently in use, and there is a special weekend train that runs from Bangkok to Namtok Station (77km). The nearby Allied War Cemetery is where the remains of nearly 7,000 POWs who died during the construction of the Death Railway are buried.

> HUAI MAE KHAMIN WATERFALL: A major attraction in Sri Nakarin National Park, this 7-tiered waterfall is accessible on foot near the park headquarters. The reservoir is ideal for trekking; its forests and bamboo groves offer opportunities to spot its rich variety of butterflies and birds.

> SANGKLABURI: Bordering Myanmar, Sangklaburi was built for Mon and Thai people whose villages were underwater due to the creation of the Khao Laem Dam. Founded in 1949 by a Mon monk from Myanmar, the village is home to Thailand's longest handmade wooden bridge (Saphan Mon), as well as the impressive temples of Wat Wang Wiwekaram and Chedi Buddhakhaya. It is also home to Wat Saam Prasob (Sunken Temple), which you access by a boat or canoe when the water level of the lake is low (in rainy season you can only see the upper 1-2m of the building). It is the last remaining vestige of the old town that was flooded for the creation of the Khao Laem Reservoir.

PRINCIPLE ACTIVITY: HIKING, RAFTING, CAVING > SAI YOK NATIONAL PARK: Covering 300 sq.km., the park is home to dense forests that is a refuge for an abundance of wildlife including mammals like the Kittis Hog-nosed bat (weighing 2g) and slow loris. There's also a network of springs and caves. While not as developed as other parks, river rafting, camping and hiking are popular activities here. You can also find the remains of a bridge on the Death Railway and Japanese cooking stoves. MUST DO

> TREKKING: Some of the best hiking trails are located in the 3 national parks of Saiyok, Erawan and Chalerm Rattanakosin. As the area is home to a large ethnic population (the Mon, Karen and Burmese), it is easy to combine a trekking excusing with a visit to their villages. These locals are rural dwellers who enjoy living simply, and still practice folk music and dances that date back 500 years. Ban Khao Lek, a small Karen village that survives by farming and collecting products from the forest, offers home stays in the valley of Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park.

> RAFTING: Thanks to its mountainous terrain, the jungles are criss-crossed with a network of rivers that are ideal for rafting. Jungle rafting can be arranged from a mountain pass to the stunning Lawa Cave (a 2-hour journey), while traditional bamboo rafting is available for trips down the Songkalia.

> CAVING: The Sao Hin Cave, located in Lam Klong Ngu National Park, is accessible via a hiking trail, requiring a crossing over a brook. Once there, a 700m swim is required to get to the heart of the cave where the towering limestone column (the world's tallest natural rock column at 61m) can be found, along with stalagmites, stalactites and patterned stones. The park is also home to several other caves, some featuring a series of picturesque waterfalls. GETTING THERE Kanchanaburi province is 2 hours from Bangkok, and is accessible by road or rail (which includes sightseeing day trips on weekends/holidays).


GEAR GUIDE

ANTI-THEFT BEEPER Terra Nova Quasar 45L

ULTRALIGHT SILVER Terra Nova's Quasar 45 Pack is an ultra lightweight, simple and compact alpine and expedition pack, using their Matrix fabric (reinforced with Dyneema/Cordura for high wear areas) for high strength, low-weight and extra durability. To lighten the load further, the Quasar comes with a pair of removable hip belt pockets (with waterproof zips), as well as a removable lid and internal foam back-pad. The pack comes with gear attachment points for roll mats, ropes, walking poles and crampons. It's available at Outdoor Life at S$381.

Innova Protag

The Protag is a loss prevention device the size of a credit card, making it easy to keep track of your belongings (like wallets, passports, etc) which is linked via Bluetooth to an easy-to-use mobile app (Android only at this stage). When the Protagged item leaves the security radius, your mobile phone will sound an alarm and the GPS coordinates will help you track it down. Available at S$59 at all major electronic stores.

COOL KICKS Columbia's new versatile hybrid Columbia shoe, the Powerdrain Cool, PowerDrain Cool utilises Omni-Freeze ZERO technology which allows feet to feel cool via laminated rings on the liner that react to moisture and sweat. Designed to move seamlessly from trail to water, the lightweight and responsive shoe is adequately cushioned and drainable (with drainage ports in the heel and forefoot) for all sorts of activities. Completing the shoe are Wet Grip rubber soles and a quick lace system. Men's and women's versions are now available at Columbia and World of Outdoors outlets, at S$159.


Evernew Ti DX

Mammut Crags Zip Pant

LIGHT PANTS The Mammut Crags Zip Pants is ultra lightweight yet a robust and strong pair of pants for travelling and mountain hiking. Made with 100% Polyamide Travel Ripstop, it weighs in at only 280g and is easy to stow away, taking up minimal space in your backpack. The Teflon finishing of the fabric allows it to be water and dirt repellent. It comes in 2 versions: with and without the legs Zip-off. The ladies version is called the Niala Zip Pants. Available at Adventure 21 at S$179 (Without Zip-off) and S$199 (Zip-off).

OUTDOOR COOK The Evernew titanium (Ti DX) outdoor stove is a lightweight stove weighs merely 86g complete with pot stand and a wind protector, and packs down to a compact size. The DX set offers an excellent combination of versatility, letting you use Esbit solid fuel tabs, alcohol or wood burning for the fire. The 2-part windscreen/pot stand provides good wind protection, and a stable platform for most backpacking pots and mugs. The stove is available at Outdoor Life at S$128.

EMERGENCY TOOL Victorinox's new Rescue Tool Swiss Army Knife is tailored for emergencies whether you're on the trail or stuck in a toppled bus. This little tool features a removable window breaker for shatterproof glass, a removable disc saw for shatterproof glass, and even a seat belt cutter. It’s available in 2 colours: black (with black nylon belt pouch and nylon cord), and yellow (with fluorescent handles) with a bright red nylon belt pouch and nylon cord. Both feature standard tools like screwdrivers, locking blade, tweezers, toothpick and key ring. Available at The Planet Traveller at S$153.90.

Victorinox Yellow Rescue Tool

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Fiji has been attracting sun-loving folks to its white-sand beaches for decades, and those who arrive with notions of R&R and lazy days are seldom disappointed. For many others, Fiji's underwater scenery has a reputation as the 'soft coral capital of the world', a moniker that lures plenty of divers and snorkellers to its shores. While its beaches and water-based activities are the norm here, Fiji's cultural and historical offerings are also worth the excursion, giving visitors a glimpse into its colourful culture and colonial history.

PHOTOS BY Fiji.travel

CULTURAL FIJI

FIJIAN VILLAGES A number of traditional Fijian villages dot the archipelago's 333 islands, and visitors are welcome to visit most of them. While modernisation means that many villages are built with concrete blocks, a few villages still retain their traditional bure (thatched roof) construction. There are also options for homestays with local families within the village – while staying with the village chief is possible, visitors are usually paired with the first family they meet upon arrival. Accommodation is on woven floor bed mats, and meals are usually sourced from the village farms. Navala The largest and most well-known traditional village is probably Navala, nestled in the Ba Highlands in the northwestern part of Viti Levu. Surrounded by mountains and ridges,

picturesque Navala has been in existence for at least 200 years, where about 200 bure homes are still built entirely the traditional way. Home to about 1,000 people, tourists are allowed to visit, but they must abide by their traditional customs. Bukuya is another village that is off the beaten track, and while it offers the same experience as Navala (it's also located in the highlands), the houses here are mainly concrete. Other villages you can visit include Naweni (Vanua Levu) which is famous for its red prawns, Tau (near Nadi Airport) which is Fiji's oldest settlement set in a large limestone cave, as well as those in the densely forested regions of Namosi and Naitasiri. For a short excursion, the Arts Village at Pacific Harbour is a recreated Fijian village featuring traditional performances like meke

dancing and fire-walking, and provides a good insight into the lives of the locals. Koroyanitu National Heritage Park For those looking for a bit more adventure in addition to a cultural excursion, Koroyanitu National Heritage Park (Viti Levu) features ancient trails that lead hikers past waterholes, small villages and up panoramic summits (like Mt Batilamu) where there are sweeping views of nearby islands. The marked trek takes in waterfalls, terraced gardens and villages. There are 6 villages incorporated within the park, and are part of an ecotourism project. Located at the base of Mt Koroyanitu, Abaca village (where homestays can be arranged) has beautiful walks through native forests and grassland, with archaeological sites and waterfalls along the way.


While Fijians are pretty easy-going, it is always a good idea to adhere to their customs when visiting a village, like presenting a gift (sevusevu) of kava, and taking your hat off. There are three main types of ceremonies that visitors will be familiar with: the Lovo, Meke and Yaqona, which equates simply to “eat, drink and be merry”. Lovo The Lovo is more like a magnificent feast than a celebration. The main feature of this is an earthen 'oven', where food is cooked on hot stones and covered with banana leaves or coconut stalks. Traditional food items include cassava (tapioca), kumala (sweet potato), yam and taro. Yaqona (kava) Fiji's national drink is the yaqona (pronounced 'yangona'), which is made from the pulverised root of a plant from the pepper family, and has a tingly numbing effect on the tongue. The act of sharing a bowl creates an invisible bond between the participants; it is often

consumed when welcoming visitors and presented as a sevusevu (gift). When mixed, a server will carry a cup to the chief guest, who must clap once before and after completely drinking the first cup.

Fiji

CULTURE

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Meke No cultural celebration is complete without a traditional Meke dance. The type of dance varies from the blood-curdling spear dance performed by the men (who wear the full warrior costume with scented coconut oil), to the gentle and graceful fan dance performed by the women (who wear garlands of flowers and leaf skirts). Two groups make up the Meke: the orchestra (vakatara) who sit on the ground and sing or chant and play the percussions (gongs, bamboo tubes, etc), and the dancers (matana).

GETTING THERE Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Fiji is accessible via a number of carriers including its national carrier Air Pacific, which has direct flights to Hong Kong and Australia (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane). A 4-month visa is granted automatically upon arrival for visitors from most countries. For more on Fiji, visit www.fiji.travel.

Another interesting excursion is the retro town of Levuka, Fiji's first capital that's still untouched by mass tourism. Founded by European settlers and traders in the 19th century, the town flourished with the cotton, coconut and sandalwood traders when ships and sailors of every nationality visited Levuka. After the capital was moved to Suva in 1877, Levuka was destined to stand still in time. Today, it is home to Fiji's oldest hotel (Royal) and a handful of 19th century churches.

HISTORIC JAUNTS

some of these ancient pottery shards.

While Fiji today is known for its resorts and beach getaways, it is easy to forget that it was once known as a country of cannibals and has been through WWII. The country's rich history and milestones can be experienced at a few sites dotted around the main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

Colonial History Europeans were prominent in Fiji since the 17th century, and in 1874, the country came under British colonial rule. During this time, Fiji became a sugar producing country – the first sugar was produced in 1862 – when sugar mills were built on the larger islands in high rainfall areas. To get the sugar to the coast for export, many railway lines were built to link the highlands to the coast. While many of these 'cane trains' are disused today, the Coral Coast Railway has been repurposed to take visitors past the scenic coastline of the Coral Coast past thick green forest and cane plantations, stopping by at a traditional Fijian village and the Muka caves before ending at the pristine white sand Natadola Beach.

Archaeological Site Fiji's history dates back to about 3,500 BC, and a visit to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park is a good place to learn more about its people. This extensive sand dune system that stretches for several miles, reaching heights of 60m, is also an archeological site where 3,000-year old pottery has been uncovered alongside human remains and stone tools. There are several trails to explore, where you can find

While the town is an interesting visit, there are opportunities to visit nearby traditional villages including Silana and Lovoni. WWII History During WWII, Fiji – like most other Pacific Island nations – was vulnerable to Japanese attack. This led to the creation of defensive gun batteries; the capital Suva had at least three, and Momi (nestled among sugar cane fields) was the site of another because it overlooked the Navula Passage. Built by the New Zealand army, it was also manned for a short period by the Americans and served as a key strategic link between the USA and Australia during WWII. Today, the Momi Battery represents a period in Fiji's history when so many of its citizens joined in the war effort.


Located in East Malaysia, this Bornean territory is largely known for its diverse terrains that differ across the state. With expansive untamed rainforests and lofty peaks stretched across the west to the interiors, and sandy beaches, river valleys and fringe reefs taking form in the east, Sabah has long been considered a haven for any outdoor enthusiast. Beyond summiting Mt. Kinabalu, riding the rapids at Padas Gorge, or diving the pristine underwater landscape at Sipadan, it’s also worthwhile to spend some time among some of Sabah’s diverse tribal groups and their villages. Each with their own set of colourful traditions and customs that are easily

accessible for visitors to experience, Sabah undoubtedly makes for a great destination to explore the various indigenous communities that are rooted in the Sabahan culture. TRIBAL MAKE UP Sabah’s cultural tapestry includes an official 32 ethnic groups linguistically and culturally diverse from each other, and all the tribes are bound together by Malaysia’s national language – Malay. Depending on their lifestyle needs, these tribes and sub-tribes also dwell in different parts of Sabah; the Bugis of Sabah and the Ida’an are tribes living mostly in the coastal and hilly region of Sabah, while the Kadazandusun and Murut tribes prefer the interiors.

© Gunther Deichmann


The largest ethnic group in Sabah, the Kadazandusun people have more than 20 sub-tribes within the community, like the Lotud, Orang Sungai and the Rungus, which is also said to be the most traditional amongst all the tribes. Longhouse dwellers that are scattered across Sabah; the majority of the Kadazandusun tribe prefers inhabiting the interior areas such as Ranau and Keningau, or along rivers and seas of the west coast, as their livelihood is largely dependent on agriculture. Their rich culture is evident through their garments - a traditional get-up for a Kadazandusun man or woman is a black velvet dress or pant-suit that often comes with colourful intricate embroidery or embellished gold trimmings.

festival is Pesta Kaamatan – a harvest festival celebrated usually at the end of May to honour the ‘rice spirit’ known as Bambaazon. Conducted by a High Priest or Priestess of the community who is also responsible for ‘controlling’ the spirit, this festival is marked firstly by a procession through the fields, followed by several food offerings that will be handed out by a male warrior. Besides the merrymaking, every year the festival picks a pageant queen – one that resembles the revered Huminodun (the daughter that was sacrificed by Bambaazon to feed the world) to honour the blessing that was given to them. Even with the dominance of animism in the culture, there are a few sub-tribes that are linked to Christianity and Islam, and these are the tribes that often border urban areas rather than villages. Seen sporting more

westernised clothing, these tribes are less communal and often peddle in timbering and animal husbandry to improve their livelihoods. The Sumazau is a traditional Kadazandusun dance often performed at harvest festivals and weddings. Usually performed by couples, this dance displays plenty of graceful swaying and bird-flying movements. Accompanied by the tribe’s traditional soft-playing instruments like Tongkungon (bamboo pieces with strings attached on the outside) and the Sompoton (flutes grouped together), the Sumazau essentially embodies the gentle nature of the Kadazandusun people.

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Intrinsically linked to animism, the Kadazandusun people celebrate their devotion to the spirit world through several festivals held throughout the year. One such important

SABAH’S TRIBES

© Gunther Deichmann

BAJAU For most of history, the Bajau people have been leading nomadic lifestyles, heavily dependent on the sea (thus the nickname ‘gypsies of the sea’), living and travelling on houseboats called lepa-lepa, or in stilted huts built over water. Taught to swim before they can walk, the Bajau people are also the second biggest tribe in Sabah and can be found prominently in Semporna, east of Sabah. Originally hailing from the Philippines, the modern-day tribe in Sabah are divided mainly into two groups: Bajau Laut, a community that has stuck by their ancestral heritage living close to the sea and choosing to fish

Malaysia

KADAZANDUSUN

as means of living, and the Land Bajau, also known as the ‘cowboys of the east’ because of their adroit horse-riding skills. They’ve departed from their old ways to venture into the interiors and west of Sabah to become cattle and agriculture farmers. Within the Bajau community are several other sub-tribes that have come about due to intermarrying, or immigration from coastal regions to other areas in Sabah, like the Simenon and Bajau Bandana – which are smaller tribes that have their own distinctive practices, and have also diverted themselves from the seafaring culture to pursue horse and cattle rearing.


THE MURUTS The Muruts have a history of being headhunters, as it was used to attest that a male of the tribe has attained manhood and spirituality. The Murut people may have been the last tribe in Sabah to renounce this ageold tradition, but even with the absence of headhunting, they are still greatly known for their intrepidity, as they are highly skilled in hunting especially with a sumpit (blowpipe). Raised to be warriors, the Murut tribe are the third largest ethnic group in Sabah. Often seen sporting a jacket made of bark with a red loincloth, the Murut men are always

armed with poison-tipped darts and spears. Literally translated to mean ‘Men of the Hills’, this fearless tribe, once practicing shifting farming of hill padi and tapioca, can now be found residing in communal longhouses mainly in the interiors like Nabawan and Tenom. These areas have also aided in developing their primitive hunting skills, as it is made up of dense jungles and rugged peaks, including Southeast Asia’s highest mountain – Mount Kinabalu (4,095m). Within this community are several other Murut tribes that depend largely on fishing,

© Gunther Deichmann

TRIBAL TOURS To experience the melting pot of cultures that make up Sabah, a tribal tour will allow you to experience local culture first-hand. For instance, Borneo Adventure has a tour which allows travellers a lunch session, a cultural show and overnight stay at the longhouse of the Rungus tribe before heading off to explore the scenic areas of nearby Sabah like Kudat Town. Alternatively, day trips to a Bajau fishing village in Tuaran offered by Asia Web Direct is where you’ll get the opportunity to experience the seafaring culture of the Bajau people, after which you can visit the local market to get a first-hand view of the lifestyle that surrounds this community. For travellers looking to understand the headhunter culture in depth, pick a daytrip

culture tour that allows you to travel to the Monsopiad Cultural Village (13km from Kota Kinabalu) in Penampang. Home to the ‘House of Skulls’ – a longhouse named after Sabah’s most legendary warrior famed for harvesting more than 40 skulls – this village has several other offerings including the traditional Murut dance, the Magunatip. For a more personalised tour, there are plenty of Kota Kinabalu-based operators that offer tours into the interior, providing professional tour guides who know the ins and outs of each region, language and tribe. You can also add in a touch of adventure by including a trekking and/or cycling tour in the wilderness of Sabah, or a scuba diving trip to a nearby Bajau village.

and they can often be found along Sapulut and Padas rivers, which also acts as highways for them to get around Sabah. Supplementing their warrior nature is the Magunatip, a dance that involves the clapping of bamboo poles together at fast speeds, requiring great amounts of focus and agility – this dance is accentuated by the tribe’s traditional musical instruments like the tangkung (two-string lute) and sape (gourd-shaped stringed instrument). Previously used to welcome Murut men back from their headhunting trip, the Magunatip is now performed at most weddings and festivals, making it a symbol of the Murut culture.


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Whether it’s centuries-old temples and pagodas, or retro towns that seem stuck in a time warp, it’s no surprise that Myanmar is the current darling of the travel set. While securing a hotel at a decent rate proves difficult these days, it means that ‘off the beaten track' experiences can still be relatively easy to find, even if you're visiting places on the usual tourist circuit.

PHOTOS BY Gunther Deichmann

MANDALAY Mandalay is the former capital and the country's religious hub. While the city itself has plenty of popular pilgrimage sites – including Mandalay Hill, Shwenandaw Monastery and Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda – it's worth heading further out from the city to experience its history and culture.

Mantara Gyi Pagoda, Mingun Just an hour's boat ride away from Mandalay along the Irrawaddy River is the town of Mingun, home to the Mantara Gyi Pagoda (Mingun Pahtodawgyi). Looming like a giant monolith, the ruins of this gigantic unfinished stupa – one of the biggest pile of bricks in the world – was built in 1790 by King Bodawpaya and was intended to be the world’s biggest pagoda.

Mingun Pahtodawgyi

Silk and Cotton Weaving, Amarapura Bounded by the Irrawaddy River is Amarapura, the former capital of Myanmar. While little remains of the old city, you can still find the old treasury building and watchtower, along with the tombs of King Bagyidaw and King Bodawpaya. The unwanted teak columns from the old palace were used to build the 1.2km-long U Bein Bridge (the longest teak bridge in the world). At 11km from Mandalay, Amarapura today is known for its traditional silk and cotton weaving. The weaving industry is one of the main professions of the Amarapura folks, and over 100 looms are used to create designs and patterns for special and ceremonial occasions.

Constructed using slave and prisoner labour, work on the building was abandoned with Bodawpaya's death, with only a third of it complete, at 50m high. While the stupa is incomplete, the accompanying bell was – weighing over 200,000 pounds, at 3.7m high, it’s the largest working bell in the world.


Myanmar

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BAGAN Located along the banks of the Irrawaddy River, Bagan is most famous as the site of the world's largest and densest collection of Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas. Seen from the sky as a haphazard collection of ochre buildings with pointed tiered roofs, most visitors only manage to see a handful of some 2,000 structures, and usually from a traditional bullock cart that grind on Bagan's dust-choked trails.

Shwesandaw Pagoda Built by King Anawrahta in 1057 at the centre of his newly empowered kingdom, the pagoda contains a series of 5 terraces, topped with a cylindrical stupa which has a bejewelled umbrella (hti). The terraces once bore terracotta plaques depicting scenes from the jalakas, but these have been covered over by heavy-handed renovations. The pagoda supposedly enshrines hair from Gautama Buddha. Thamiwhet Umin Cave About half a mile southeast of Nyaung U are the 13th century twin cave-temples of Hmya tha and Thamiwhet Umin. These cool subterranean terraces are used as residences of Buddhist monks as a tranquil place to conduct prayer and meditation. Thamiwhet is dug into the side of a hill, constructed with zig-zag corridors and many chambers, and features murals and stone inscriptions dating back to the 15th century.

Kaw Goon Cave


Inndein ruins

INLE LAKE Situated in the centre of the country, Inle Lake is home to a dense population of different tribes. The lake is a watery world of stilted villages and floating gardens, where fishermen go about their business with their peculiar technique of leg-rowing. You can canoe on the lake, and visit some of these interesting villages along the shore.

Shweyanpyay

Inndein Ruined Pagodas One of the small villages of Inle Lake, Inndein is situated in the shallow part of the lake, and is only accessible by boat during the rainy season. The village is home to a curious collection of a cluster of hundreds of ancient stupas that are mostly overgrown with bushes. The Nyaung Oak group of pagodas (closest to the village) are in a crumbling state, but their ornate stucco carvings of mythical animals can still be seen in some parts. Climbing the covered stairway from here leads you to the pagodas of the Shwe Intein Paya (17th century), partly restored and partly in ruins. The hill is a good vantage point

for a panorama of the village and surrounding farms. Shweyanpyay teak pagoda Just outside Nyaung Shwe is the fascinating wooden monastery of Shweyanpyay, built in the early 19th century. The entirely wooden red stilted construction is a hodgepodge of oval windows, rich mosaics, golden ornaments and decorative roof embellishments. Today, the monastery is in full operation and is a home for novice monks and their teachers. Next to it is a white stucco temple featuring a red painted interior with thousands of niches, each holding a small Buddha.


The market town of Hpa An (capital of Kayin state) makes a good base to explore the area's mountain and cave systems. The town is connected to other towns by road, and the singularly distinctive Mt. Zwegabin provides a dramatic backdrop for Hpa An.

Mt. Zwegabin The most striking feature of Hpa An's landscape is the limestone mountain of Zwegabin (723m), which is a popular but strenuous hiking destination (a hike takes about 2 hours) that takes you to a small monastery with a golden stupa at the summit, where overnight accommodation is available. From the top of the mountain, you can get a sweeping view of the surrounds. Kaw Goon Cave Located near Kaw Goon village in Pa-an township, the historical Kaw Goon Cave is an intricate cave with a profusion of arts related to the late Bagan period (13th century). Decorated with thousands of terracotta votive tablets that line the interior limestone walls, the cave is also home to many seated Buddha images (of varying sizes) are a source for devotees who come here to pray.

Kaw Goon Cave

Kyauk Kalat

Kyauk Kalat A short drive from town through rice fields is the Kyauk Kalat monastery, which is known for taking in animals, including rabbits which now hop around the temple grounds. Part of the monastery is a tall rock pinnacle that stands erect from a small reservoir with a golden pagoda capping it. Access to the monastery is via a long bridge that spans the reservoir.

Myanmar

HPA AN

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Located on the western border of Texas, New Mexico is a geographical culmination of culture and nature, where ochre sand adobes and earthen pueblos stand alongside 300 year-old haciendas amidst a sprawl of red earth.

PHOTOS BY New Mexico Tourism Department TEXT BY Prabhu Silvam

EXPLORING NEW MEXICO From the Carlsbad Caverns to the Black Range Mountains and the White Sands National Monument, New Mexico’s natural landscape not only makes for interesting photographs, its network of hiking and biking trails lets you explore the state’s natural and cultural history up close.

more than 2,400km of trails, Gila National Forest is criss-crossed with mini tributaries and an extensive network of campgrounds. It is also home to the ancestors of Puebloan people who lived in the Mogollon area over 700 years ago; their village is built within 5 of the natural caves of Cliff Dweller Canyon.

HIKING

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, located near Cochiti Pueblo (a Keres tribe settlement of 1,500 people), is also ideal for hiking, with interesting geological formations along the way. The Canyon Trail (2.4km) takes you past narrow canyons with a steep climb to the mesa top for excellent views of the Sangre de Cristo and Rio Grande Valley.

With a wide selection of hiking trails ranging from rugged mountaintop paths to low-lying grassy plains, hikers will be spoilt for choice. With more than 4,000 prehistoric ruin sites surrounding its area, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a famous hotspot for trekkers and campers alike. The extensive trails that snake through the excavation sites allow trekkers to appreciate the architecture of the Ancestral Pueblo people whilst enjoying the diverse wildlife. Backcountry trails offer trekkers a different kind of challenge. Covering almost 3.3 million acres of land, Gila National Forest is the largest national forest in New Mexico. Its extensive wildlife and birdlife make it the ideal spot for experienced hikers. Other than providing

MOUNTAIN BIKING Cycle paths for both street and trail cyclists are peppered across New Mexico, making it a cyclist-friendly state. The Mount Taylor mountain bike path – a must-try route for experienced cyclists – dips into several canyons and comes back onto ridges between drainages. Wild turkeys, elk and deers are just some of the wildlife cyclists can expect en route.

For a leisurely ride, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park Loop is 13km of flat, paved road. The ruins of Pueblo Bonito and Casa Rinconada are just some of the ancient ruins along the route.

PADDLING The rivers surrounding New Mexico are a favourite haunt for rafting enthusiasts who enjoy its steep drops and good rapids all year round. Most of the waterways are made up of melting mountain runoffs, making the mountainous northern part of the state a haven for water activities. Experienced rafters will enjoy the fast, gushing waters of the Rio Grande while beginners can appreciate the scenic surroundings while maneuvering down the gentler, dam-controlled Rio Chama. Due to the short spring runoff season which usually begins in April, other smaller rivers with varying difficulties are also available for rafting and canoeing during this period. Due to the unpredictable nature of the river rapids, it’s advisable to engage in a guide.


PUEBLOS Steeped in rich history and culture, New Mexico is a melting pot of 22 Native American tribes. The most famous of which are the Navajo and Apache, who – along with other tribes – have established permanent settlements commonly known as pueblos (villages). There are 19 pueblos spread across the state, most of them reminiscent of village settings in cowboy movies. Some of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the US include the 12th century Acoma Pueblo – known as 'Sky City' – built atop a 111m sandstone mesa in the desert and the UNESCOlisted Taos Pueblo which is known for its strikingly wellpreserved multi-storey village that is home to nearly 4,500 people. Other villages include Isleta Pueblo (home to 3,000 members with its distinctive white plastered church), Laguna Pueblo (consisting of 6 villages), and Santo Domingo (one of the largest historic settlements which looks much like it did after the Spanish settled in the valley). Almost all of these pueblos are home to artisans, and

GETTING THERE New Mexico's only major airport is in Albuquerque, located in the middle of the state, which has flight connections to other major cities across the USA. You can also access New Mexico via the historic Route 66 that cuts through the middle of the state. For more on New Mexico, visit www.newmexico.org.

depending on the tribes, are known for a wide variety of handicrafts like beaded jewellery and pottery.

like Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on horseback.

DUDE RANCH

New Mexico's diverse landscape is also littered with Pueblo, Navaho, Apache and Ute settlements – all of these can be explored on a riding excursion.

Thanks to its wide open spaces, New Mexico is where you can experience the cowboy life – you can participate in a rugged cattle drive, or ride along miles of fence, or retrace the footsteps of legendary cowboys. After a long day, you can soak in a hot tub or stretch out under the stars. New Mexico's arid ochre landscape, with its amazing geological formations, has drawn the attention of many legendary figures who've explored its landscape on horseback. Traces of the American Old West is visible everywhere; you can head to the canyons that sheltered Apache warrior Geronimo in the 1800s, or retrace the routes of outlaws

USA

New Mexico is truly a land of ‘cowboys and Indians’, where you can easily explore the many earthen pueblos (villages) for a cultural immersion, and then retrace the steps of famous cowboys on horseback to release your inner outdoor spirit.

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A dude ranch is an ideal starting point to experience this 'wild west'. Plenty of dude ranches dot the state: choose from a working dude ranch (working cattle/sheep stations where you can lend a hand), dude ranch (with a focus on riding and being outdoors) and resort dude ranch (where riding is complemented by a diverse on-site range of activities).


HAND GESTURES Gestures can say more than words, and just as we are usually very careful when using foreign languages, we should consider carefully what hand gestures we should display whilst in different cultures. Waving your full arm side to side in many countries means ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’. In some European countries, as well as Japan and Latin America, it can be confused for a ‘no’ or general negative response. In India, it means ‘come here’.

CAMPING WOES

er the carefully, and plan for rain, no matt camping Here are some of the most common report. ther wea mistakes for newbies: 4. Not creating a list ter with 1. Picking the wrong tent & shel Try not to waste too much room per per cam e is a commodity. You should count about 30 sq. ft. spac as gear ary cess unne the tent bly in a (for adequate space) and make sure Make sure all items can fit comforta check the help. will list a will stand up to harsh weather, so ting Crea corner of the tent. nd. Take zippers, poles and fabric beforeha height along a tarp to string up at head 5. Ignoring wildlife space be sharing Depending on location, you might between trees to provide a standing make sure space with wildlife (like bears) so for foul weather protection. Plan for to keep food away from your tent. es) so quito mos , 2. Poor campfires (ants cts inse of sion an inva take any ng racti cont Cooking food over an open fire can d avoi to vital protection is re without hours to cook to a safe temperatu . ases dise es stov propane or charcoals. Choose your

If you care about cultures you care about people. When you travel or play in the outdoors you rely on all kinds of gear and unfortunately you can’t tell by looking a product if the people who made it were treated fairly and if they were working under safe conditions. So what can you do?

SAVVY BUYING

ORIGIN Countrys don’t make a product; people and factories do. I would suggest that you can’t look at a country of origin and know if the people working there were treated fairly or not. Good companies and factories exist just as much in developing nations as they do in more industrialised ones. In fact many of the newer factories have been made in developing nations and they might have safer equipment and buildings. In some people’s opinion if you boycott buying from a particular country you are most likely to hurt the people who are most vulnerable: SealLine the front line Dry Bags workers. Instead, demand that the companies doing business there treat people fairly and safely.

TRANSPARENCY If you go to a company’s website can you find out about

Counting with fingers starting with index finger toward the pinkie may confuse Germans and Austrians, as forefinger held up means two instead of one, especially when ordering a round of drinks. In Japan, the thumb alone means five. Hungarians count with the thumb being number one. Curling the index finger, or four fingers toward you as a gesture of inviting somebody to come closer, can be mistaken for ‘good bye’ in southern Europe.

GEAR GUY: Ken Berg Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada's premier outdoor retailer for the last 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it's cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.

Patagonia Women’s Ultralight Vest

their auditing process? How much information are they sharing? Do they tell you how many violations they have found? If the company is of even a moderate size and working with a variety of companies in a variety of countries they are going to find issues. If the company is willing to say what they have found, how major the infraction and whether they are able to fix it. They are among the best out there. Keep in mind the people working at the factory are better off if companies demand that they improve and fix the mistakes. If they just walk away people will either be without a job or continuing to work in the same factory under the same conditions. This is of course assuming that the problems are not major. There should be no tolerance for things like child labour or unsafe working conditions.

VERIFICATION Find out when a company visits a factory. Do they visit prior to doing business and after

manufacturing begins? They should be able to visit at any time and not just during unannounced visits. Companies saying that they are doing audits themselves is one thing but they should also have an external company doing audits for them.

ASSOCIATION There is strength in numbers. If a company is part of a larger group that works towards treating workers fairly they are likely not only doing their part in the factories that they work with but also helping others improve. Look at a group like the Fair Labour Association. If a smaller company asks a factory to shape up or they’ll lose their business it might be easy them to be ignored if they are a small percentage of their business. If the factory is at risk of losing the business of larger companies (like Platypus, SealLine or Patagonia) they will be taken more seriously.


Uzbekistan

Central Asia

Kazakhstan

21 Kyrgyzstan

Crossing no less than 14 modern nations over 8,000km, the historic “Silk Road” was never a single fixed route, but a constantly evolving highway for ancient trade that connected the eastern Mediterranean with China, via a network of caravanserai, fortified cities, remote desert oasis and mountain passes. And while Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan aren’t the only modern countries along the old road, together they form the fascinating, uniquely “Turkic” heart of Central Asia.

CENTRAL ASIA’S SILK ROAD

Since the historic days of the ancient Silk Road, Central Asia's been drawing travellers to its vast and varied lands. Starting life as a crossroads of cultures and trade, its ancient kingdoms and tribes had already been flourishing for centuries long before Marco Polo ever arrived. Fast forward to the 20th century, and Asia’s complicated geo-politics meant most of the Silk Road was a no-go anywhere after the Middle East all the way to Beijing. All that started to change though with the turbulent breakup of the USSR. Suddenly -stans like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan reemerged on the travel scene, opening up the vast,

“Turkic” heart of Central Asia, and putting the Silk Road back in business after a 70year hiatus.

AN OVERVIEW For travelers and traders centuries ago, traveling the entire length of the Silk Road could take more than 2-3 years. Starting by boat from Europe the road began in Syria or Turkey. From there the second leg set out into the vast expanses of Central Asia, crossing an unforgiving succession of deserts, mountains and harsh steppe – made more dangerous by searing heat, freezing winters and raiding bandits. Eventually the route reached China’s eastern frontier, where nomads gave way to the

villages and cities of the Middle Kingdom. From here the road took on yet different, distinctly Chinese character, en route to the capital Beijing.

INTER-RELATED More than their related languages and nomadic traditions, the Turkic nations share a common thread of peoples running between them, with many ethnic Uzbeks living in Kazakhstan, major Kazak populations in Turkmenistan etc., a carryover from the Silk Road’s heyday. But for all their similarities they differ significantly, from the urbanized Uzbek to the nomadic Kyrgyz herder, to the desert dwelling Turkmen or the horseman turned newly minted Kazakh middle class in oil-rich Astana.


UZBEKISTAN Perhaps the most sophisticated of the stans in terms of being traveller-friendly, Uzbekistan is home to Tamerlane, the most legendary of the Central Asian warriors. While warmongering is long over, the fabled mosques and madrassahs of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are inextricably linked to the country's rich ancient culture. Samarkand, the home of Tamerlane and the jewel of the Silk Road, is easily accessible from the capital of Tashkent. Tamerlane was buried here at the mausoleum, which features an intricately ornate dome where his tomb lies. Other major sites include the Registan Square which is home to 3 impressive blue-walled madrassahs, each with its collection of handicraft shops. The most popular is the Ulugbek Madrassah

which was once an important Islamic school. Also worth visiting is the Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleum complex, which consists of dozens of ornate blue-tiled mausoleums that line a narrow path. A short flight (or drive through the desert) brings you to Bukhara, once known as 'The Divine' because of the number of religious schools and mosques. Its main attractions include the Ark (a large walled palace where the emirs once lived) and the UNESCOlisted 12th century Kalyan Minaret, in addition to a number of smaller restored madrassahs in the old town section. The Silk Road heads towards Khiva, an oasis town and open-air museum that is perhaps the finest example of a Silk Road city. This 10th century city exudes an

authentic atmosphere of the 'era of the beginning of time', which has its heart in the Itchan Kala castle. Within the fortress are marvellous minarets and stone-paved alleys that lead to madrassahs with ancient walls lined with lace-like mosaics.

Uzbekistan Turkmenistan

TURKMENISTAN After decades of eccentric, post-Soviet rulers who did everything from renaming the days of the week to outlawing gold teeth, Turkmenistan remains the strangest of the Central Asian stans.

One of the best routes is driving from Khiva (in neighbouring Uzebkistan) to the ancient, UNESCO-listed city of Urgench. Dating from the ancient Khorezm Empire and formerly one of the most important cities in the Islamic world, its golden era ended when it was razed twice in just 150 years by Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane.

After crossing the border you can drive to several sites on the edge of town, including the 14th century Turabeg Khanym complex with its 20m dome covered in 365 stars (one for each day) and widely regarded as one of the Silk Road’s most beautiful buildings. Urgench also boasts Central Asia’s tallest minaret, the 60m Gutlug Timur, as well as several famous madrassahs and a necropolis. From there, it’s best to fly to Ashgabat (530km, 12 hours by road). Mainly mud brick decades ago, Ashgabat today gleams with white marble façades, kitsch gold statues and plam tree-lined boulevards. Years of eccentric patronage also make it a hub for interesting museums like the National Museum, the Earthquake Museum and the Carpet Museum; original Turkmen carpets are available at the Altyn Asyr market, with different patterns unique to each tribal group. Some of Ashgabat’s other sites include the National Memorial Park, the Ashgabat

Flagpole (133m) and the Turkmenbashi Cableway which goes 1,300m up into the mountains, overlooking Ashgabat and the stark surrounding desert. While there are half-day riding tours on Turkmenistan’s indigenous Akhal-Teke horses on the outskirts of Ashgabat. The easiest way to get around is by hired car. The best route onward is to the modern city of Mary, and the adjoining ruins of UNESCOlisted Merv. Today just a small oasis town in the vast Karakum Desert, Merv was once one of the world’s largest cities, before being overrun like many other Silk Road cities by the Mongols in the 13th century. Massive Merv is home to dozens of mausoleums and kala (ancient fortresses), with highlights including the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, considered the greatest of Merv’s kings, and dozens of ruins like the ancient Seljuk Talkhattan Baba Mosque. From Mary, most travellers cross overland to Bukhara, Uzbekistan (330km).


While Kazakhs have historically been migratory horsemen, there is now a burgeoning middle class in the bustling new capital Astana thanks to the country’s new-found oil wealth. A city of very distinct contrasts – from gleaming skyscrapers to concrete Soviet blocks in the old town – it is Central Asia's most dynamic city, and the hub for domestic and regional transport. Away from the glitz of the capital, it’s the country’s vast deserts, mountains and steppe that define the ancient, Silk Road side of Kazakhstan which include the cities of Turkestan (Yassy), Sayram, Otrar and Taraz.

Kazakhstan

Founded in 490, Turkestan is the country’s best Silk Road-era city. The Hodzha Ahmed Yasavi mausoleum, an amazing complex of palaces and temples consisting of 30

Central Asia

KAZAKHSTAN

various rooms and halls, is an unsurpassed masterpiece of medieval architecture. Once reputed to be one of the most beautiful cities of the East, Sayram was considered the starting point on the Kazakh Silk Road, while Otrar was the trade capital of the huge Otrar Desert. Both have unfortunately been razed in the middle ages.

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Today in Sayram, you can still see the minaret of the12th century Bazalak-ata mosque and cult structures constructed after the Dzungar invasion, while Otrar's ruins still tower over the steppe like a huge mound.

Taraz used to be the centre of the steppe part of the Silk Road before it was razed by Genghis Khan, and today has preserved traces of medieval citadels, caravanserais, mud huts and craftsmen's workshops. Near modern Taraz are UNESCO listed masterpieces of ancient architecture: Babadzhi-khatun (the 10th century) and Aisha-bibi (11th century) mausoleums. From here, the best way to get to connect to other cities along the Silk Road is via Almaty (the former capital) .

Kyrgyzstan

KYRGYZSTAN Kyrgyzstan is naturally gifted with immense beauty, nestled amongst high mountains, alpine lakes and glaciers. And despite recent years of unrest, is still an unparalleled destination in the region. During Soviet times, while lowland Turkmen, Kazakh and Uzbek cultures faced a constant assault, Kyrgyz culture survived largely undisturbed. Isolated in high valleys, beyond the reach of Soviet censors. Kyrgyzstan was a convenient position between Europe and Asia, drawing many caravan routes along the Silk Road. The routes passed Pamir-Alay, Fergana and Chuya in modern Kyrgyzstan; two branches

went to Kashgar (in Xinjiang) via Samarkand and Osh (the main intermediate trade point before heading to the Torugart Pass), and one of them went via the Boom Canyon to the Issykkul area before reaching China via the San-Tash range. Medieval Kyrgyzstan became one of the cultural centers of ancient Turkic people with the growth of caravanserais like Suyab, Tash Rabat and Osh. Osh, the main city of modern south Kyrgyzstan, lies on the green hillsides surrounding the Ak-Bur river. The centre of Osh is the Suleiman-Too mountain ridge, a holy site that is a place for pilgrimages. Its

Silk Road museum preserves the city's glorious past, which includes the Asaf inBurkhia mausoleum, 11th century bath ruins and 2 mosques from the 10th and 11th centuries.


As a country endowed with plenty of natural and historic treasure, Finland also offers tourists another cultural characteristic: plenty of peace and silence. As a counterbalance to the hectic rhythm of daily life, Finland has plenty of space to breathe where you can do as the locals do and take things easy, whether it's staying at an idyllic lakeside cottage, sweating it out in a sauna or exploring its untouched nature.

TYPICALLY FINNISH SUMMER ACTIVITIES PHOTOS BY Visit Finland

FINNISH TRADITIONS Cottage Life Spending holidays at lakeside cottages are an essential part of Finnish life, with long summer nights best spent on the porch of a cottage. Activities include sweating out in a sauna with cooling dips in the lake – an ultimate way to purify both body and mind. While luxury cottages are available, many people prefer a traditional approach, with smaller cabins that offer minimal amenities located off the beaten track. Because of their locations which are often in rugged natural settings, activities like hiking, fishing and mountain biking are the norm. Covered by more water than land, the central Lakeland region is prime cottage country and the heart of the Lakeland is Saimaa (the largest lake in Finland). A great way to explore the region is via the tens of kilometres of cycle routes, taking you past scenic stretches

and plenty of bridges. The archipelago is also perfect for kayaking, with over 130 islands and 21 harbours to visit (and maybe spot the endangered Saimaa seal). Saunas Saunas are a Finnish institution – there are 1.8 million saunas in the country – and it is considered an honour for someone to be invited to a sauna. For newcomers, a sauna experience in Finland may be a surprise, as the interior is nearly dark and silent, and the Finns normally partake in this activity with no clothes on (although visitors are welcome to keep a towel on). Generally done in groups, a 'vasta' or 'vihta' (a bundle of fresh birch twigs) are often used, and are purported to have good effects on the skin. Saunas are located almost everywhere in Finland - and is usually best enjoyed in cottages no matter what the season.

Midsummer Bonfires Midsummer (during end of June) is a main national holiday in Finland, and is originally a celebration of the summer solstice. As midsummer is the beginning of a warm summer, many Finns spend their holidays at a summer cottage away from the city. Normally quiet by nature, this is the only time of the year when they let their hair down. In the old days, bonfires were lit to keep evil spirits at bay, and spells were cast to ensure a good crop or increased fertility. Lighting bonfires and bathing in saunas are 2 of the most typical traditions during this celebration, as well as making noise and getting intoxicated (a behaviour to bring luck). It's held all over the country as the days are long and the nights are bright.


CYCLING THE COASTAL/ARCHIPELAGO AREAS The southwest of Finland boasts several cities, historical towns and national parks that stretch over land and sea. The vast and varying natural terrain is ideal for boating, cycling and hiking. Here you can cycle past plenty of historic small towns like Porvoo, Loviisa and East Uusimaa. Porvoo is known for its idyllic cobbled 18th century Old Town section, as well as its most well-known landmark: red shore houses, which were painted red in honour of the arrival of Gustav III, the king of Sweden. From Porvoo, the cycle route leads to Loviisa, a historic small town with a collection of ancient wooden buildings. A detour by boat to nearby Svartholm sea fort makes for an interesting excursion. From Loviisa, you can head towards East Uusima's barren rocky shoreline and green rolling landscape, or cycle inland to Lapinjärvi, a prime historic Finnish rural village.

isolated areas that seem to be completely untouched on some islands.

EVERYMAN'S RIGHTS Around 65% of Finland is covered in forest, with fir, birch and pine dominating the landscape. Hiking or walking in the woods in summer are popular activities for the Finns, who abide by the rule of 'Everyman's Right', meaning that anyone can walk freely in the forest. There are short walking routes throughout the country, as well as 37 national parks for those looking for longer hikes. For short walks, the Nuuksio National Park is easily accessible from Helsinki, while longer backpacking hikes can be had in Lapland's Lemmenjoki National Park and Urho Kekkonen National Park, the country's largest parks.

Finns consider a trip to Lapland the only way to see the true face of their country, and countless visitors repeatedly return to this land on the northern side of the Arctic Circle. A large selection of marked trails make it easy for inexperienced hikers to explore the huge parks, while wilderness areas are perfect for more demanding hikes. The Finns are berry enthusiasts, and 'Everyman's Rights' provides everyone access to some of the treasures of the forest, including berries and mushrooms, especially during autumn when they are in profusion.

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More cycling can be had in the Åland islands, which consists of 6,500 islands (65 are inhabited). Virtually flat with hardly any traffic make cycling through the scenic pastoral landscape a breeze. Small bridges and ferries take you from one island to the next, passing

GETTING THERE There are direct flights from Singapore to Helsinki via Finnair, taking 12 hours. For more in Finland visit www.visitfinland.com.

LIGHTHOUSES Plenty of lighthouses dot coastal Finland, with many now serving as accommodation options. These offer the visitor a glimpse into the lives of lighthouse keepers, and guarantee peace and quiet, save for the sounds of the ocean. Some notable lighthouses include the 1953 Kylmäpihlaja (Rauma) which has rooms located in the tower, and picturesque Tankar (Kokkola) which is dotted with traditional Finnish summer cottages near a nature trail. Built in 1889, the lighthouse is of the classic shape and style, and makes for terrific photos. Historic Bengtskär (Hanko) is the highest lighthouse in the Nordic countries, while Söderskär (Porvoo) – with a 1876 woodheated sauna – is a 150-year-old lighthouse located in the middle of a nature preserve for sea birds.


WORLD FESTIVALS JAPAN MALI

Plastering the Great Mosque An Imam sets the date of this annual event every April, during which the entire town participates in the remudding of the facade of the UNESCO-listed Great Mosque of Djenne, which is the largest mud brick (adobe) building in the world. For several days leading up to the event, mud is prepared in pits and young boys play in it to stir the contents. Once it's ready, men would climb the scaffoldings to apply the mud to the walls, and a race is held to determine the fastest to deliver plaster to the mosque. This unique event celebrates a living heritage in which everyone participates, and a party - with drumming, dancing and feasting - follows suit. WHEN: early May WHERE: Djenne

UZBEKISTAN/CENTRAL ASIA Kupkari Championship Kupkari (or ulak, buzkashi) is a traditional Central Asian team competition played on horseback where skilled dzhigits (horsemen) compete to carry a goat or sheep carcass into a goal while galloping at full speed, fighting off rivals who will try to snatch the carcass away. The horses are often chosen to be sturdy and short, while the rider is decked in quilted cotton robes and pants with head protection. The game begins with competitors lining up until a village elder leaves the carcass in the centre of the circle and signals the start of the competition. There may be a chance to see other traditional activities, like qiz qavar (girl catching), belbogi kurash (wrestling) and darboz (rope walking), during a kupkari. WHEN: Spring or Autumn WHERE: Various places

Hadaka Matsuri The Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival) sees thousands of male participants dressed only in a fundoshi (loincloth) as they march together and wrestle with each other to grab a hold of a holy talisman which is thrown into the crowd by a priest. The person who gets a hold of them is said to be blessed with a year of happiness. Though many now join for fun, it is traditionally a spiritual winter or summer event held across Japan, with the most famous one held in Saidai-ji Temple in Okayama (where it originated) that sees over 9,000 participants. WHEN: Third Saturday of February WHERE: Saidaiji-naka, Okayama prefecture


From dangerous stunts to community spirit, nothing brings a crowd together for some merriment better than a festival. This is a time when everyone lets their hair down while carrying on in the footsteps of their tradition. For visitors, it’s a rare and intimate glimpse into the lives and cultures of the world’s varied peoples.

VANUATU Naghol, Land Diving Festival Typically held on Saturdays during the dry season, 'land diving' - which is similar to bungee jumping - is a ritual performed in southern Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. Men and boys who perform land diving start by constructing wooden towers about 30m high which they then climb to the top of while villagers below sing, dance and make plenty of noise. From the top, the men would then jump to the ground with nothing more than vines wrapped around their ankles. A rite of passage for young men, the real celebration begins with much singing and dancing when the men are safely on the ground. WHEN: April-May WHERE: Pentecost Island

PERU Inti Raymi Festival A solstice celebration held every year on June 24, the Inti Raymi is held in historic Cusco, the ancient hub of the Incan empire. Over 150,000 colourfully-clad participants assemble in the morning at Coricancha, or Sun Temple, where an invocation of praise to the Father Sun is made. Then the royal entourage moves to the main plaza where the ceremonial reading of the sacred coca leaf is followed by a procession to the ramparts of Sacsayhuaman, a cultural treasure outside town, where a llama is ritually "sacrificed". Traditional dancers representing the four corners of the empire add colour to the festival, while the formal spectacle lasts just 4-5 hours. WHEN: June 24

INDIA Krishna Janmashtami (Gokulashtami) Festival A festival commemorating Lord Krishna, it runs for 2 days throughout India when temples are brightly decorated, and one of the best places to experience it is in Mumbai. The highlight of the festival is on the second day (Dahi Handi), when young men form a human pyramid to reach clay pots containing butter, curd and money that are strung up high from buildings, competing with each other to reach the pots and break them open. Fasting is observed on the first day, and people spend it at temples by offering prayers and singing. WHEN: August 27-28 2013 WHERE: Throughout India

WHERE: Cusco

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10 OUTDOOR IDEAS IN ENGLAND

IMAGES FROM Visit Britain

From the rolling countryside to wooded forests, England is ripe for outdoor exploration. Coupled with a rich cultural heritage, you can canoe, bike, hike or swim your way through some of England’s best, and most picturesque, assets.

1 SOMERSET Climbing at Cheddar Gorge Adrenaline junkies find plenty to get stuck into at magnificent Cheddar Gorge, a staggering limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills made famous by the discovery of Britain’s oldest skeleton in 1903. This jagged natural landscape is particularly popular with rock climbers, and there are tons of routes to suit all abilities. To refuel, you can sample some Cheddar cheese, which originated from this region and is now the most popular cheese in the UK.

WHERE TO GO: 4 3

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10 HEREFORDSHIRE Canoe along the Wye Valley The River Wye sweeps its way through the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty past emerald green fields, deep limestone gorges and hillside forests. An open-top Canadian canoe is the perfect way to experience the river which takes you past ancient castle ruins and riverbank pubs. Moor at Symonds Yat for a spectacular view of the valley and a glimpse of peregrine falcons nesting in the surrounding cliffs.

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9 OXFORDSHIRE Walk to the White Horse Ancient history and sweeping countryside vistas treat those who take the 4.8km walk to the White Horse at Uffington. This rural jaunt is hotly tipped by actor and travel buff Michael Palin, who chose Oxfordshire’s chalk white horse as his pick for VisitEngland’s recent project 101 Things to do before you go abroad.


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2 YORKSHIRE Mountain Biking in Dalby Forest Le Tour de France will rip through Yorkshire in 2014, but everyone can experience the thrill of mountain biking at Dalby Forest right now. This towering mass of trees is laced with an assortment of cycle trails for a range of abilities, from gentle passages winding through the beautiful forest to more challenging terrain and jumps.

3 CUMBRIA The Great North Swim The country’s largest open water swimming event sees thousands plunge into the invigorating waters of Lake Windermere. This three-day event, set amid the fresh greenery of the Lake District, runs from 14 to 16 June, and has an assortment of swim events for all abilities – plus a local farmer’s market to keep everyone refuelled.

7 NORTHERN ENGLAND Walk the Pennine Way This year is the 75th anniversary of writer and illustrator Alfred Wainwright’s Pennine Journey, and the 430km Pennine Way remains one of England’s most popular long-distance walking trails. Walking enthusiasts can tackle the whole length, running from the wilds of the Peak District, through the undulating Yorkshire Dales and the rugged Northumberland National Park, or dip in and out of the route.

8 HAMPSHIRE Pony trekking through the New Forest Trotting through the sun-dappled leafy glens and ancient woodland of the New Forest National Park on horseback is one of the most charming ways to explore this expanse of natural English beauty. Visitors to this former royal hunting ground will find an assortment of riding schools running pony treks through the forest, including at Beaulieu, Brockenhurst and Fordingbridge.

© Martin Brent

4 NORTHERN ENGLAND Walk the Hadrian’s Wall Path This year marks the 10th anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall Path, the scenic trail running beside UNESCO World Heritage site Hadrian’s Wall. The well-trodden 134km path follows much of the ancient wall’s original line, taking in stirring views along the way. Built in AD122, the wall was created to divide Roman England from Scotland, and is thought to have once been over 4.5m high.

Find more outdoor activity ideas at VisitEngland.com.

8 WILTSHIRE Summer Solstice at Stonehenge Thousands gather at prehistoric World Heritage site Stonehenge on the longest day of the year for an all-night celebration of the Summer Solstice. More than 5,000 years ago, these famous stones were transported to the grasses of Salisbury Plain from Wales and the result is one of England’s most iconic sights. Stay amid the rolling countryside at one of many holiday cottages dotting the Marlborough Downs.

6 GLOUCESTERSHIRE Cheese Rolling English eccentricity runs wild at this annual cheese rolling event at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire. This spring bank holiday event sees crowds race down the large grassy bank in hot pursuit of a huge round of Double Gloucester cheese as it is rolled down. The first person to scramble over the finish line wins the cheese and bragging rights.


Bordering Alaska and Northwest Territories, Yukon is world renowned as a land imbued with gold rush history, frontier spirit and first nation culture. With a land mass the size of France, this sparsely populated (30,000 inhabitants) territory still retains a frontier feel, and its heritage is a patchwork of World Heritage sites and majestic Yukon wilderness, combining first peoples' cultures and the trail of the Klondike Gold Rush.

IMAGES FROM Travel Yukon

EXPLORING CARCROSS YUKON

CARCROSS

Thanks to Yukon's large tracts of pristine nature, there are many opportunities for outdoor adventures; you can hike in its many national parks (including UNESCO-listed 22,013 sq.km. Kluane National Park) or canoe/kayak along its 70 mountain rivers and extensive lakes.

Carcross is home to Yukon history, both trail and rail. Originally known as Caribou Crossing (named for the migration of huge numbers of caribou that used to travel across the narrow straits between Bennett and Nares lakes), this modern-day community was established in 1898, and some of Yukon's oldest buildings are still used as businesses and residences today.

Parts of Yukon experience the Midnight Sun, so you can take advantage of its long summer days. Come winter, Yukon enjoys spectacular displays of aurora borealis (northern lights), which can also be seen during fall and spring. With a human history dating back 20,000 years, Yukon's first nations people established settlements which remain today as modern-day towns. Over the years, Yukon's rich tapestry of cultures included the Europeans in the 18th century, which led to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896 when thousands of prospectors arrived.

Carcross is home to the Tagish First Nation tribe, and was once their fishing and hunting camp thousands of years ago. The Tagish culture is matrilineal, and when a child is born, he/she is born into the mother's moiety, which consists of several clans, each belonging to either Wolf or Crow. Since their arrival to the Southern Lakes region in the 1800s, the Tagish First Nation still maintain many trails in the region, including the famous trading route of the Chilkoot Trail. During the Klondike Gold Rush, Carcross

was a popular stopping point for prospectors going to and from the gold fields of Dawson City. At first, miners would arrive on foot via the Chilkoot Trail from Skagway (Alaska), and then by rail with the arrival of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. Backed by mountains, the waterfront town of Carcross today houses a collection of wooden pioneer heritage buildings that are reminiscent of a frontier town, including the Caribou Hotel and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad depot. The Carcross Footbridge (originally a wagon bridge in 1905) over Bennett Lake is a fishing pier leading to a sandy beach landing. Perhaps the most photographed town in the Yukon, Carcross (with accommodation options and a trading post) is a good base to explore the surrounding mountains which are ideal for hiking, wildlife viewing and mountain biking, while the chain of lakes are popular canoe routes.


The dry climate and wind conditions at Carcross have resulted in the Carcross Desert, affectionately known as the world's smallest desert at 2.6sq.km. These dunes are used for off-roading, hiking as well as sandboarding in summer. Just south of Carcross is the large massif of Montana Mountain, where you can bike between mid-May and mid-October, or ski/snowboard from mid-November till late April. It boasts over 35km of singletrack – some designated only for downhill MTB. The recently inducted 28km Mountain Hero Trail – a resurrected old silver mine tramway dating back to 1905 – is one of only 5 Canadian trails in the 'Epic Trails' category of the IMBA, making it a challenging backcountry excursion worth ticking off your bucket list.

Backpacking can be enjoyed along the shores of Bennet Lake along the famous 53km-long Chilkoot Trail, spanning from Skagway (Alaska) to Carcross. This historic route (taking 4-7 days) was a major transport route for miners during the Gold Rush and is now a hiking trail that takes you through various ecosystems ranging from boreal forest to alpine tundra. Well-marked and monitored by park rangers, wildlife here include grizzlies, black bears and bald eagles.

CANOEING Located at the convergence of many lakes – like Tagish, Marsh, Bennett and Nares – Carcross is an ideal base for canoe expeditions. The waterway is part of a historic canoe route that connects the lakes to the Yukon River, linking villages and tribes, as well as hunting and fishing grounds.

Today, the lakes are ideal for fishing, canoeing, swimming and sailing during the summer months. Throughout the network of lakes and rivers, especially Marsh and Tagish lakes, are neighbourhoods of resort cabins and vacation cottages.

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The region is also a birdwatching haven, as the lakes fall under the migratory path of many birds like swans and other waterfowl during the spring months. In the winter months, the lakes freeze, and winter activities like dog sledding, ice fishing and skiing take over.

HERITAGE RAILWAY Completed in 1900 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass & Yukon Railway extended from Skagway to Whitehorse via Carcross, which was a major transportation hub. After years of absence, the White Pass & Yukon Route is now operating scheduled passenger services from Skagway to Carcross. The train chugs through a scenic mountain landscape between Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia over plenty of breathtaking canyonspanning wooden bridges and tunnels, and passes places like Fraser and Bennett – with their historic train stations – along the way.

GETTING THERE A major stop along the South Klondike Highway, the community of Carcross is accessible by road as well as via the White Pass & Yukon Railway from Skagway (Alaska) or Bennett (British Columbia). By air, the easiest connection is via Whitehorse (the capital of Yukon), which has commercial flight connections to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. For more on Yukon, visit travelyukon.com.


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