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Jordan | Taiwan | Greenland | New Zealand | Japan and more
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Traditional Value May/June is what’s considered by the travel industry as ‘shoulder season’ which is a great time to travel because it’s less crowded and cheaper to do so. This issue is also our Culture Issue, which focuses on what makes each country unique. Our main story this issue is Jordan, which is famous for its desertscape, ancient Nabatean treasures, and even Roman ruins. But beyond the serenity of the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum, or the bustling cities of Amman and Aqaba, visitors can also experience traditional Bedouin hospitality. In the words of the late King Hussein:
“Jordan has a strange, haunting beauty and a sense of timelessness. Dotted with the ruins of empires once great, it is the last resort of yesterday in the world of tomorrow. I love every inch of it”. We also feature Taiwan’s Matsu islands which has a quirky mix of well-preserved stone Fujian houses and 1950s military architecture in the form of tunnels and gunposts. Other islands we visit include the Maldives, which is famous for its luxury hotels situated on private islands; as well as Greenland, a unique destination that blends the dramatic scenery of icebergs and Northern Lights, with unique activities like whale watching and dog sledding. Historic sites are the focus of Hiroshima and Texas. For the former, it’s all about ancient port towns, WWII memorabilia, and picturesque temples. In the latter, we visit the many historic forts that dot this wild west landscape. In Norway, we focus on some of the country’s most notable road trips that will literally take your breath away, while in Vancouver, our exploration never veers far from the ocean. In the southern hemisphere, we briefly showcase Brazil’s unique mountain towns, as well as Chile’s high-altitude Atacama region, which is home to historic white-washed villages and colourful festivals. In New Zealand, it’s all about the beautiful landscapes that were the backdrop to The Hobbit. We also have a Swiss special that focuses on cycling trips in this beautiful country – whether you choose easy road rides or tougher mountain bike trails, there’s no doubt you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous nature. Visit our website for our blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!
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© Mads Pihl
ESSENCE OF GREENLAND
DOG SLEDDING To go dog sledding is a lifetime experience that should not be missed on a visit to Greenland in winter. Dressed in warm clothes, you’ll get to ride with a Greenlandic driver out in the endless, snow-covered mountain landscapes.
© Mads Pihl
Greenland is the world’s largest island, which also happens to be a country with the lowest population density and one of the smallest capitals in the world. It’s a land of Arctic landscapes and precipitous cliffs, white ice and deep blue sea as well as lush sheep farms, hot springs and green mountains with wildflowers. Greenlanders are a versatile and welcoming people who live under the northern lights in winter and the midnight sun in summer. For travellers visiting Greenland for the first time, there are five main themes that should not be missed. Nicknamed the ‘Big Arctic Five’, these include dog sledding, northern lights, whales, ice, and the pioneering people.
Dog sledding takes place in several countries in the Arctic, including Sweden and Norway, but no other destination can match Greenland when it comes to authenticity: The dog sled and sled dogs are in fact deeply embedded in Greenlandic culture and it is just as much a part of the country’s history as the kayak. The dog sled continues to play an important role as a means of transport for hunters to hunt.
Sled dogs howl and jump at the mere sight of the musher, and will instinctively pull off at speed with or without a driver. However, these dogs have the ability to read the environment, and will stop when they sense that the ice is too thin to cross. If you want to experience Greenland at its most beautiful and dramatic, head to the east coast and the unique natural area of Liverpool Land at Ittoqqortoormiit or Tasiilaq on the island of Ammassalik. The biggest mountains and glaciers are here and it is close to the Ice Sheet. © Mads Pihl
In fact, sled dog territory only encompasses areas north of the Arctic Circle in the west coast, and in all the towns of the east coast – strict breeding regulations mean that only these purebred sled dogs are allowed inside the territory. Dog sled tours are offered north of the Arctic Circle in West Greenland and in Tasiilaq, and Ittoqqortoormiit in East Greenland. You can choose anything from day trips to week-long sled trips, staying overnight in a cabin. The season starts in February and lasts until April. The energy level and endurance of sled dogs is unmatched, and it seems the command ‘Go’ is completely unnecessary as they are constantly in ‘Go’ mode.
Most people choose to go on short trips to Kangerlussuaq, Sisimiut, or Greenland’s largest tourist town, Ilulissat, which is also a destination of outstanding beauty. Ilulissat is also a little more accessible as you can fly there direct from Denmark, so you don’t have to go via Iceland (which is the only way to visit Greenland’s east coast towns).
© Paul Zizka
The rolling, mythical and magical Northern Lights dancing in the night sky is a sight to behold for winter visitors, and Greenland is the perfect place to experience the phenomenon – in the middle of nature, where the mountains and the snow are illuminated by the green and red light show. From early spring, the night sky is regularly illuminated with the Northern Lights’ emerald glow.
The Northern Lights – or Aurora Borealis as it is known – actually occur year round, but it is not seen in the summer in Greenland, because of the midnight sun (when the sun stays out for 24 hours). It often appears around midnight and is best experienced on a dark, clear night sky from September until the beginning of April. If you are travelling during that period, you can see the Northern Lights
Over time, the Inuit have also allowed themselves to be marvelled. A famous local legend says that when the Northern Lights dance in the sky it means that the deceased are playing football with a walrus skull. Today, some people think it brings children luck if they are conceived under the magical glow of the Northern Lights.
throughout the country, but in South Greenland the Northern Lights can already be seen from the end of August. You can also catch the Northern Lights from most places, even from the capital city of Nuuk. The very best and most easily accessible destination in Greenland to view the Northern Lights is the airport settlement of Kangerlussuaq; uniquely located inland in lee of mountains and ice, it boasts more than 300 clear nights a year. If you’re heading out on the only gravel road in Greenland leading directly to the Ice Cap, the opportunities for seeing the Northern Lights are at their best, as there is hardly any light pollution to speak of.
© Malik Milfeldt
To sail in Greenland is in itself a great experience and it becomes even greater when a whale appears right next to the boat. Humpback, fin and minke whales can be seen along most coastlines and often the whales swim quite close to towns and settlements.
Qeqertarsuaq, located on Disko Island, is a well-known spot, especially for playful humpback whales in high summer, in addition to minke, and fin whales; many Greenland Whales also visit the site a little earlier in the year – typically from May to June.
The sea around the world’s largest island is ideal for whales, because it contains plenty of nutrition, food and offers great depths that whales can frolic in. There are lots of whales particularly in the summer months, and often you may be lucky enough to see them from the shore when certain species, such as humpback whales, often go close to the shore in search of food. Even in winter you can sometimes be lucky enough to encounter the bowhead whale which spends its whole winter in Disko Bay.
The towns of Uummannaq, Aasiaat, Maniitsoq, Nuuk and Sisimiut, as well as the towns in South and East Greenland are also good places to see the ocean’s largest mammals. And if you sail with a coastal ship from the Arctic Umiaq Line, the regional routes from Disko Line or a cruise with, for example, Hurtigruten, you can almost be sure to see whales during the voyage. It’s about keeping a look out and going on deck several times a day.
ICE The largest collection of icebergs in Greenland exists at the UNESCO-listed Ilulissat Icefjord – this “iceberg capital of the world” is home to thousands of icebergs that can be seen year round by hiking, sailing, or flightseeing.
The ice sheet is fascinating for its magnitude and all its power and beauty. Icebergs are calved out of glaciers and embark on long journeys out at sea – unique and magnificent works of art made by the hand of nature.
A bit further north, Uummannaq’s iceberg changes with the season: summer sees a harbour packed with towering icebergs finding their way to sea, and in winter sea ice forms, freezing straggling iceberg in place until next year, creating a great icy maze perfect for dog sledding and ice fishing.
Blue ice – which occurs when ice has very little air in it – is rampant in South Greenland, and it appears vibrantly against a backdrop of lush green hills. Also, large sheets of pack ice are truly unique to South Greenland towns like Nanortalik and Qaqortoq. Unlike a freshwater iceberg that calves from a glacier, this is frozen ocean water that has travelled all the way from the east coast.
Millions of large and small icebergs have been calved from the numerous glaciers that are evenly distributed all over Greenland. From historical times to the present day, icebergs have been used to distinguish the seasons and identify towns, attracting explorers, adventurers, and scientists alike. Icebergs are the ice sheet’s unique masterpieces and they come in all imaginable shapes and sizes, and the colours shimmer from white to blue and with greenish, yellowish and reddish shades depending on the light that hits them.
Modern Greenland is a diverse, geographically extensive society with ancestry ranging from Inuits to Vikings – and locals speak Greenlandic, Danish, and English. In many ways Greenland is a country that has managed to retain its identity as an “original” country with an indigenous people. Greenlanders are warm and hospitable; hospitality in Greenland is the foundation of any home. If you want to visit a Greenlandic home, you can go for a “Kaffemik” – Danish word for coffee get-together – in many towns
and settlements. In fact, it is not coffee that is in the focal point, but being together. The hosts serve homemade cake with coffee and tea, and
conversations about daily lives and the local community flow – it’s an insight that can neither be read about in books nor tourist guides.
AFFORDABLE RUNNERS RETURN OF THE MOUNTAIN KING
Still made independently in Chamonix since 1950, Julbo produced the world’s first dedicated mountaineering shades – the now-legendary Vermont. Instantly recognisable, with their distinctive, soft leather wraparound shielding and circular lenses, the latest incarnation – the Cham – has gone considerably more high-tech. The Cham is available in 2 types of lenses: the Spectron 4, made of lightweight, shockresistant polycarbonate ideal for multi-sport; and the darker Alti Arc 4, which are highly scratch-resistant, and set the industry benchmark for glacier sunglasses. Designed for a light-touch, yet secure fit at the temples and nose while being anchored with flexible ear hooks, they easily transition from trail to town (the wraparounds are removable). Julbo Chams are available at Adventure 21 from S$229.
While not typically associated with higherspec sports shoes, Bata’s new line of running shoes takes things in a different direction with their XoRise Genesis design, which gives 25% more bounce (thus higher energy return) than a conventional PEVAbased sole. It also boasts substantial heel cushioning and good all-surface traction via its Gripton base (the same tech used in specialised tyres). It has a snug, bouncy fit with its unique wrap-around tongue and extra-padded collar, while the woven outer makes it highly breathable and lightweight. The XoRise is available – in men’s and women’s cuts – from all Bata stores at a very affordable S$49.95. BATA XoRise Genesis
HI-TECH TRAVEL LOCK
AirBolt is the world’s first rechargeable Bluetooth-enabled smart travel lock that can be opened and closed via a smartphone app, as well as directly via a combo of buttons on the lock. Using Bluetooth 4.2 LE technology, it can be tracked and pinpointed through its crowdsourced GPS network, automatically alerting you when the bag moves beyond a specified distance – handy if you accidentally leave your luggage behind, or if it’s stolen, lost or missing on a multi-leg flight. It can be shared across multiple users, as the owner can set (or revoke) permissions for other users. AirBolt is made from die-cast zinc and stainless steel cables, weighing just 60g. AirBolt is available at a pre-order price of S$87 via www. gadgetgoodsasia.com before June 20.
MULTI-PACK ON WHEELS
Victorinox’s latest Vx Touring Wheeled 2-in-1 Carry-On doubles as a wheeled duffel, which converts to a backpack, featuring padded, adjustable shoulder straps that zip away when not in use. Weighing just 2.74kg, it’s small enough to be cabin baggage (if unexpanded), yet also fully expandable, giving you an impressive 43L of internal space. Externally, there’s ample storage via its added side and lid mesh pockets, as well as a padded laptop pocket, and zip-away wheel cover, and is available at S$639 at The Planet Traveller stores, Takashimaya and Tangs Orchard.
Inspired by their famous line of military rucksacks, Mystery Ranch’s new 3 Day Assault pack’s signature 3-zip design means its entire 30L of interior space is readily accessible, instantly. The external MOLLE webbing and front daisy chains let you expand (and customise) your carrying capacity by securely lashing external items to the outside. There are also side compression straps to cinch down bulky, uneven loads, and the internal sleeve can accommodate a 17” laptop, and doubles as a hydration pocket. Made of rugged 500D Cordura fabric, it’s available at Outdoor Life at S$675. MYSTERY RANCH 3 Day Assault
Vasque’s Breeze III GTX encompasses an array of modern features wrapped in a classic and simple design, suitable for day hikes, overnight trips and many outdoor activities. The metal lacing system and secure nubuck leather holding provide firm support around the ankles whilst walking on unstable ground, rocky terrain or up inclines. It features heel and toe ventilation ports for breathability, while the upper mesh panels manage moisture and airflow throughout. The Vibram Contact Grip sole allows for grip even on wet and muddy terrain, and the waterproof Gore-Tex membrane keeps feet dry in wet conditions. The boots are fitted with toe caps for protection against trail hazards, with comfort and support provided by the EVA cushion pods. It’s available at various outdoor gear retailers like Leeden Classic Store, Adventure 21 and Outdoor Life at S$289.
VASQUE Breeze III GTX
TAKING THE EDGE OFF THE TRAIL
Stanley’s latest hip Classic Flask is ideally sized (at 236ml) to be a highly portable libation source for when you hit the trail. While it can carry your water, it’s better-suited as a stylish, light-weight solution to the burning question of what to drink at the end of a long, well-earned day of hiking. It’s BPA-free, and made of highly-durable 18/8 stainless steel. Weighing just 400g empty, its wide mouth opening makes it easy to fill and clean, all while being 100% leakproof. They’re available in black, crimson, hammertone green and hammertone navy, from all major departmental stores and retailers at S$38.
GRANITE STRONGHOLD Suicide Cliff & Thread of Sky
Many people think of Taiwan as a single island, but the country actually has dozens of smaller offshore islands, each of which is a unique destination. Among this is the Matsu islands, which are grouped into 4 townships – Nangan, Beigan, Dongyin and Juguang – and are geographically closer to China than Taiwan.
As the smallest part of Taiwan at just 29sq.km., what the islands lack in size, they make up for in historic sites and local culture.
Iron Fort Beihai Tunnel
JUGUANG Fuzheng Village Dapu Village
BIRDING IN MATSU
Matsu is Taiwan’s undisputed birding capital, thanks to its geography near coastal wetlands along key migratory routes. Matsu enjoys both spring (Mar-Apr) and fall (Sep-Oct) migration seasons, although hundreds of species can be seen year round. While Matsu is home to over 400 species of birds (roughly 60% of all species found in Taiwan), it’s most
famous for its terns. From May to September, thousands of terns soar above the islands, including Bridled Terns, Greater Crested Tern, and the critically-endangered Chinese Crested Tern. Other colourful species include numerous types of buntings, drongos, flycatchers, wagtails, and warblers – many of which are endangered, like the Crested Bunting, the bright blue Zappey’s Flycatcher, and the Citrine Wagtail. There’s also an abundance of raptors including eagles, hawks, and kites, alongside fishing birds, and even migratory cranes.
The hilly islands of Dongyin and Xiyin – which are connected by a causeway – feature the most striking topography. Dongyin’s Thread of Sky is a wavecut gully made by two sea cliffs with tunnels within that are connected by
a concrete bridge. You can enjoy the unique scenery from a wooden platform surrounded high sea cliffs. Nearby is Suicide Cliff, accessible via a footpath through three vertical rock faces to the edge of this dramatic cliff, with the waves crashing below. In May and June, you can experience the Sea of Stars (or Blue Tears), a luminescent algae which blooms in a blue glow along the coastline.
TAIWAN’S MATSU ISLANDS HISTORY First settled by fishermen from eastern Fujian – the islanders still retain their Minbei dialect to this day – the islands transformed from fishing villages into a military stronghold in the 1950s. Thanks to its isolation, Matsu is the only place you can get kaoliang, a sorghum liquor. You can visit kaoliang distilleries in Matsu (which also produces laojiou rice wine) and Dongyin. Military forts & tunnels Matsu’s geographic location has made it an ideal spot as a military outpost and still retains its martial vibe today (many people here are in uniform). When martial law was lifted in 1992, visitors were allowed to explore its military sites, including tunnel networks, bunkers, and gunposts.
On the island’s northeast is Tunnel 88, which was enlarged in 1974 by the army to accommodate tanks. By 1992, it was turned over to Matsu Distillery which used the tunnels to store jugs of old wine and kaoliang spirits. Dongyin Island is the northernmost point of Taiwan, and the most heavily militarised. Here you’ll find the 640m-long Andong Tunnel which is accessible via a 260m-long tunnel with 464 steps. Besides military utilities, tunnels lead to openings on sheer cliffs (formerly gunposts) where you can see terns nesting on rocky cliffs.
Nangan’s southern coast houses the Iron Fort, a former outpost manned by special forces. The sea rock was excavated to form a tunnel which contained canons, murder holes, and accommodation equipped for coastal defense. Nearby is Beihai Tunnel, the most famous – and largest – tunnel in the Matsu islands; the granite walls were excavated by hand and dynamite from 1969-1971. Located near the Dahan fortress (itself a stronghold featuring a tunnel), the 700m-long tunnel was an underground wharf. It takes about 30 minutes to walk along the footpath in the tunnel; at high tide, the footpath is submerged, so it’s only accessible by a boat cruise.
Traditional Fujian villages Matsu is one of the last strongholds of traditional Fujian architecture in Taiwan – you can see authentic cube-shaped stone houses from the 19th century, with roofing tiles held in place by stones. While many of the villages were once prosperous, they declined along with the fishing industry. Some of these villages are now being preserved and converted into restaurants and rustic B&Bs for visitors. On Nangan Island, Fujian villages can be found in Niujiao – where some of the temples and local shops have also been restored – and Jinsha, which features stone houses piled atop one another on the slopes of this steep, hilly village. Some military constructions nearby have also been renovated for tourism.
Qinbi Village – which once thrived on producing dried baby shrimp – on Beigan Island has the best-preserved Fujian-style buildings in all of Matsu. The closely-packed granite houses are piled atop one another between the mountain and beach. Dongju Island has two Fujian fishing villages: Fuzheng Village in the north and Dabu Village in the south. Fishermen used to move between the two villages so that they could continue to fish year round; today the fishermen are gone, but you can find retro cafes and street art.
Uni Air operates regular flights between Taipei’s Songshan Airport and both Beigang and Nangan airports (NT$2,000 one-way, 50 minutes). There are also daily ferry services between Keelung and Matsu’s main islands (Beigan, Dongyin, Juguang, and Nangan), taking roughly 8-10 hours one-way. Within Matsu, local ferries run regular services between the islands (eg. Nangang-Dongyin, 2 hours). The best time to visit is from late May to September, as the islands are shrouded in thick fog from March to early May and battered by heavy winds in winter, making air and sea connections erratic. Visit www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw for more.
BRAZIL’S HISTORIC TOWNS 2 BRASÍLIA 1 PETRÓPOLIS (RIO DE JANEIRO) Located in the State of Rio de Janeiro, Petrópolis is a mountain retreat with a European flavour. It was the favourite city of Dom Pedro II, who built a palace that served as summer residence of the imperial family: the Imperial Museum, with its neoclassical architecture. The Museum showcases a rich collection of pieces that belonged to the imperial family, from furniture to artworks and even personal objects. A number of rooms are open to the public, including the music room with its golden harp, the State room, and the princesses’ chambers. The city centre, with its picturesque parks, bridges, canals and old-fashioned street lamps is easily explored on foot or by horse and carriage. Today, it’s a favourite weekend getaway for cariocas (residents of Rio city).
Brasília replaced Rio de Janeiro as Brazil’s center of government in 1960, under the visionary leadership of President Juscelino Kubitschek, whose term was marked by prosperity and political stability. The futuristic city is a product of visionary architect Oscar Niemeyer, and its millennial design evokes the layout of an airplane. Notable avante-garde buildings include the Catedral Metropolitana with its spiked bowl shape, the UFO-like Museu Nacional Honestino Guimarães, the magnificent Palácio da Justica with its asymetrical concrete waterfalls, the pyramid-shaped Templo da Boa Vontade, and Congresso Nacional, the icon of the capital with its two half-hemispheres and twin towers. Memorial JK, located downtown, tells the history of the former president, showcasing his large personal collection and pictures of the construction of the city. Visitors can also see Kubitschek’s grave (where his mortal remains are), which is kept in a dark room, with stage lighting.
3 GRAMADO (RIO GRANDE DO SUL) The city of Gramado is dominated by Bavarianstyled timber-framed architecture that feels like a Swiss mountain village. The atmosphere here is very much European, thanks to its community of German and Italian immigrants. Gramado is part of the Romantic Route, where cold weather – thanks to its location at the top of Serra Gaúcha – and flower gardens are part of the draw. Its boutiques sell gourmet chocolate, and local restaurants specialise in fondue, and hotels resemble Swiss chalets. A number of agritourism trails allow visitors to taste the wines of the region. The city is also dotted with various manmade attractions, including the Museu do Chocolate, Snowland (the first indoor snow park of America), and Dreamland, the first Wax Museum of Latin America.
Brazil is a huge country with a lot to see and do, and one of the best ways to learn about the land is to go on a trip back in time. Away from the bustle of big cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo, historic towns dot the country – these places are a reminder of Brazil’s ancestors and public personalities.
4 OURO PRETO (MINAS GERAIS)
11 BRAZIL 5
Ouro Preto city, in Minas Gerais, is known for its Baroque-style colonial art and architecture, and is significant historically as the centre of gold mining and government. Its historic downtown was the first Brazilian UNESCO site in 1980.
Built at the foot of the Serra do Espinhaço, Ouro Preto’s colonial centre is steep. The town consists of narrow, vertiginous cobblestone slopes that make navigating by car difficult, and on foot exhausting. However, there are outstanding views of the 23 churches spread out across the hills.
5 PELOURINHO (SALVADOR) Salvador is the capital of Bahia State, known for its natural beauty. There you can visit the UNESCOlisted Pelourinho, the historic downtown and the centrepiece of the Cidade Alta. The cobblestone-lined neighbourhood is home to colourful colonial mansions, multi-story houses inspired on Portuguese Baroque architecture, as well as magnificent churches (with intricate interiors) from the 17th and 18th centuries. Cultural centres and schools of music, dance and capoeira pack these pastel-colored 17th- and 18th-century buildings. Check out a live capoeira jogo (game) in the historic square, visit a samba bar, or hop on the 72m-high Elevador Lacerda (built in 1873) to experience the upper and lower city. Take a break at Praça Municipal (or Praça Tomé de Souza), the heart of colonial Brazil for over 200 years.
The city also houses Museu da Inconfidência, dedicated to the memory of the Inconfidência Mineira (revolutionary movement against the Portuguese colonialism in Brazil in 1789). It was built in 1930, when President Getúlio Vargas asked that the bodies of the inconfidentes mineiros (revolutionaries) that were buried in Africa be brought to Brazil.
Chile’s cultural roots are as diverse as its landscape, and have shaped the uniquely Chilean identity. Head into the country’s northern Atacama region, and you’ll find that it’s far from being a desolate, arid wilderness. The Atacama desert is overflowing with life, with fertile oases sustaining an astonishing diversity of life in the world’s driest desert. On the photogenic high Andean plateau (altiplano), you’ll find small historic villages at up to 4,000m above sea level, where you can spend time with the indigenous Aymara people who mostly still practise their ancient way of life.
CHILE’S ATACAMA REGION
Visit San Pedro de Atacama and explore its vast salt flats, active geysers and intense blue lagoons; or drop by one of the many coastal towns – like Arica and Iquique – which are lined with sandy beaches and punctuated with historic sites further inland. Thanks to its clear night skies, the northern half of Chile is also dotted with many astronomical observatories.
in the world. You can also explore the altiplano on a visit along ancient roads that reveal more than 30 colonial churches.
With a mixture of coastline, desert and high Andean plateau, Arica is not just famous for its warm water beaches where you can surf and bodyboard. You can trek to Morro de Arica, an Iconic National Monument where you can parasail from its summit, or visit the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum, home to the oldest mummies
At Lauca National Park, the Andean foothills and high plateau landscapes merge in a place of great cultural and historical interest. One of its main attractions is Chungará Lake – one of the highest in the world situated at the foot of the Payachata twin volcanoes – which is steeped in archaeological and historical interest. Camp at the foot of volcanoes and caves, right in front of the reflection of beautiful lagoons; it’s an amazing view that will make you forget it’s one of Chile’s most populated regions. Visit Parinacota village, a National
Monument where you can learn about the local alpaca wool weavers and visit its 17th century stone church. A mystical destination in the heart of Lauca National Park, its adobe buildings hide legends of spirits and superstition dating back to the preColumbian past of the Aymara people. In the month of January or February, Arica holds the Carnaval con La Fuerza del Sol Arica for three days, featuring colourful Bolivian dances.
snow-capped mountains, and welcome a large variety of birds. With its mix of desert, mountains and ice, it’s a photographer’s magnet. Go deeper into the Aguas Calientes salt flat, and you’ll find the desolate Tuyaito Lagoon with its unique pearl-like colour. Chiu Chiu is an oasis in the middle of the desert inhabited by Atacama communities. While normally tranquil, it livens up during periods of religious festivities when algarrobo drinks (fermented drink made from the algarrobo tree) are drunk. Visit the San Francisco Church, built in the 1600s, which is the oldest church in Chile built using millennial indigenous techniques and made out of mud and cactus wood. The historic town of San Pedro de Atacama is situated in a land of indigenous peoples, and a place where dirt roads and adobe homes are sprinkled across some of the most stunning landscapes on the planet. While the city has plenty of attractions, like the old plaza and church, it’s what lies outside that make this area famous. From active geysers to lagoons and salt flats, you can end the day in a hot spring and gaze at the stars across the sky of the driest desert in the world. The enormous Los Flamencos National Reserve is a landscape of lagoons, salt
flats and mountains where flamingos take centre stage. Walk along the trails around the spectacular altiplanic lagoons and visit the most scenic portion of the Atacama Desert: the Moon and Mars valleys – Moon Valley with its peculiar rock formations and dunes, and Mars Valley with its ever-changing colours. At night, they’re ideal stargazing spots, and are easily accessible from town via cycling or trekking trips. At 4,000m above sea level, the deep blue waters and white shores of the Altiplanic Lagoons are surrounded by
IQUIQUE the 20th century. You can visit these ghost towns to relive the glory days of one of Chile’s most prosperous periods in history.
Set along the ocean among palm trees and pastel-coloured colonial buildings, a walk in downtown Iquique transports you back in time to when ladies wore taffeta and men had handlebar mustaches. Its collection of old architecture maintain the glamour of its heyday as a saltpeter mine. The two saltpeter towns of Santa Laura and Humberstone – both UNESCO sites – became the world’s most important saltpeter mine at the turn of
On 16 July, check out the La Tirana Festival, which is basically Chile in a nutshell – an eclectic and unique blend of indigenous culture and Catholic traditions, with late-night dancing and round-the-clock food. It’s held in the town of Tirana, an oasis in the middle of the Pampa del Tamarugal, about 72km inland from Iquique.
Making that perfect holiday come true seems ridiculously easy these days, thanks to technology. Travellers can now create, book and organise their customised itineraries right from the comfort of their own home. With services ranging from picking the cheapest tickets and accommodation to recommending (and booking) activities, it seems that travelling in this day and age is all about bringing your mobile phone with you.
A HOME AWAY FROM HOME
With a growing population opening up their homes on sites like HomeAway (for larger spaces) and Airbnb, travellers can gain access to all sorts of accommodation. Even without a budget, Couchsurfing’s global community is willing to open their homes to strangers. The only caveat is that by booking with hosts (via Airbnb, for instance), there’s a high chance of cancelled bookings, often last minute with no option for replacement rooms (unlike hotel bookings where you may be upgraded). To keep up with competition, traditional hotels have gone on online wars. Platforms like Agoda and Booking.com offer some form of ‘Best Price Guarantee’ and have a range of hotels from hostels to luxury resorts, while Priceline lets travellers pick their price for blind-booking hotel rooms. Some specialise in last-minute bookings (HotelTonight) or sell cancelled rooms (Roomer). Then there are comparison sites like Trivago, HotelsCombined, and Kayak. In order to make the most of whatever booking, remember not to get distracted by anything that attempts to rush you into a booking (ie. ‘selling fast!’), and think about the price rather than the discount it supposedly represents. It’s easy to use these booking sites to search for hotels in the area, even if you don’t book through them. It’s also a good idea to check the hotel’s own website – you may find better deals there.
More and more travellers are looking for unique, bespoke experiences, so some sites are providing small-scale tours that give them the flexibility and intimacy that’s not found in a big tour group. Bike tour companies were among the first to offer bespoke trips, but in recent years, many more startups are getting on board, so
platforms like Get Your Guide aggregates all bespoke activities so you can book them easily on one platform. Since then, brands like Expedia, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and Booking.com, are all looking to add tours and activities into their online platforms. There are also others with a regional spin, like Voyagin, Klook, and Be My Guest that specialise in tours and activities in Asia. In India, you have options, like Make My Trip and Clear Trip. Some also include discounted tickets for entry to various activities and attractions, ranging from Broadway to Universal Studios.
MAKING TRIP ITINERARIES
So much of life is spent getting bogged down in the details, but there are plenty of free travel planning apps that can simplify the process for you. Some simplify the travel planning, while others make the actual travel easier.
Apps like Tripit, Tripcase and Worldmate create master itineraries for all your travels — from hotels to car rental and flight bookings, even if they’re booked on multiple travel sites – from every confirmation email. You can sync the itinerary with your online calendar, and include maps, directions, and weather forecasts, and share them with your contacts. Tripit integrates with Packpoint, an app that helps you pack for your trip. Then there are apps that also let you book
everything in addition to organising it in an itinerary. Trekeffect and Kayak lets you build and edit your itinerary, and book hotels and flights directly through the app. If you’re travelling in a group, Travefy helps you handle finances by allowing you to collect money for things like car rentals, hotels, and restaurants from your group. It also lets you build and book itineraries which can be shared.
Road trips are becoming increasingly popular, so there are apps catered to drivers. By connecting drivers to one another, Waze creates local driving communities that help travellers decide the best routes to take. Users can report the cheapest gas stations, avoid traffic jams and police traps. If you’re on an American road trip, Roadtrippers finds millions of roadside attractions based on your route that Google Maps is prone to miss.
PACKING FOR TRAVEL
Some of us may need a little help when it comes to packing for trips that are out of the norm – like a 10-day backpacking trip instead of the usual 4-day business trip. PackPoint generates a packing list based on your destination, weather, travel dates, length of stay, and the kind of activities you’re looking to do. It also integrates with Tripit. Similarly, PackKing offers packing lists based on a long list of activities, from Hiking and Photography to Mobile Office.
15 For a getaway from Thailand’s popular beach destinations, you can head inland to explore its lush landscape where you can stay with the locals. Located in the southern portion of Thailand, the 738 sq.km. Khao Sok National Park – one of Thailand’s largest – is a lowland jungle that’s believed to date back 160 million years, interspersed by limestone hills, hidden waterfalls and caves. Not only is it a great place to observe wildlife like bears, gaurs, tapirs, gibbons, marbled cats, and maybe a tiger, it’s where you may spot the rare Rafflesia kerrii which blooms from October to December. The park is also home to a number of community-run stilted villages over lakes.
KHAO SOK NATIONAL PARK
KHAO SOK NATIONAL PARK
There are two main areas of the park – the area around the visitor centre, and Cheow Lan Lake. A number of short hiking trails are accessible from the visitor centre; a dirt track from the east side of the campsite takes you to many of the waterfalls along the Sok River, while a trail from the north side leads you to the beautiful 11-tiered Sip-et Chan Waterfall. Longer trails will require guide assistance, which can be arranged either at the visitor centre, or at one of many guesthouses and lodges near the park entrance. Various tour companies as well as guesthouses offer 3-4 day tours that combine hiking and canoeing, especially around Cheow Lan Lake with its various caves and viewpoints. Cheow Lan Lake The lake is probably the most popular
destination within the park, where raft houses are the main attraction. Stilted atop the lake, these colourful houses are beautifully set against the backdrop of the lake and dotted with over 100 jutting jungle-clad limestone karsts. Several raft houses – which are basic but have amazing scenery – are built for tourists, with the proceeds going towards the upkeep of the park. The vast lake is only 35 years old, created after the building of a dam when 385 families were resettled.
Animal-spotting aside, the best time to visit is the December to April dry season. The wet season is between late April and December, and during the June to October monsoon, trails get slippery but waterfalls are in full flow.
The only clue to its origins are the dead trees that protrude from the water as a reminder of the flooded forest. There are many caves, viewpoints and trails all accessible with boats or canoes from the raft houses. While there are trails for wildlife-spotting, kayaking among limestone hills in morning mist is a must, where you can spot langurs, gibbons, toucans, and more. The lake is accessible via longtail boat from the southeast side of the park, 65km from the visitor centre. Getting there requires private transportation which can be arranged via tour operators or raft houses that dot the lake. Many of the lodges employ people from the area to run the accommodation and have trained guides to run tours throughout the park, giving you an insight into this beautiful area from a local’s perspective.
One of the easiest ways to explore Norway at your own pace is on a road trip along one of Norway’s awardwinning Scenic Routes, where natural wonders are amplified by art, design and architecture. Constructed over two decades, the Norwegian Scenic Routes initiative set out to combine Norwegian nature, architecture and design – by some of Norway’s best architects and designers – into something not seen anywhere in the world. The 18 Scenic Routes are found in western, central and northern Norway, along the coast and in the mountains, covering over 2,000kms. Here are just a handful of these drives.
© Werner Harstad
PHOTOS: Statens vegvesen
VARANGER (160KM) Located in the far north, the serene drive is past birch woods, marshland and a rugged cliff landscape where you can spot endemic birds. Along this stretch of road, several bird-watching hides have been built, and there’s also a good chance of spotting reindeer.
Geographically, Varanger is along the route leading to the Arctic Ocean, and its natural surrounding is full of contrasts from lunar landscape to isolated villages and coastal scenery. Historically, this area is home to the witch trials of Finnmark – and it was here that the greatest number of people (91) were found guilty of witchcraft and burnt at the stake in the 17th century. In memory of those persecuted, the dramatic Steilneset Memorial rests along the jagged coastline of the Barents Sea. You can also drop by the picturesque Vardøhus Fortress that lies at the easternmost point of Norway.
The area is also one of cultural diversity, where you’ll find a unique mix of Russian, Finnish and Sámi traditions.
SENJA (102KM) The steep mountains plunging deep into the ocean are the most prominent feature of this stretch. The road is narrow with twists and turns along fjords with crystal clear waters, past a dramatic landscape dotted with tiny fishing villages. Senja reflects the robustness of the people who had to survive on fishing and agriculture in a land that yielded little. The villages maintain a storytelling tradition that’s as rich as the landscape. As Senja is an island, you must cross the bridge from the mainland or take a
ferry from Tromsø. The highlight is the viewing platform at Bergsbotn from where you can look out over Bergsfjorden with the ocean beyond. The area is also great for those who want to get out and hike, paddle, dive, or freeride down steep hills.
LOFOTEN (230KM) clear waters are the main draw. Thanks to its location, the Arctic winter is the perfect time to see the northern lights; it’s also a time when fewer people visit.
Lofoten is a landscape that is both beautiful and stark, dotted with sheltered, protected stretches that provide relief from the raw, exposed areas when the wind is blowing hard. The combination of the untamed ocean and stormy seas, jagged alpine mountains plunging into the water, tiny sheltered fishing villages and white beaches with crystal
Lofoten is famous for its cod fisheries, which has provided the local population with its own industry. Between February and April, huge quantities of cod migrate to Lofoten to spawn. It goes without saying that visitors to Lofoten should try their hand at cod fishing. This can be done in addition to other activities like a sea eagle safari or kay-
aking trips in the Arctic waters. Of particular interest is the town of Reinehalsen, located at the foot of the Reinebringen peak; as one of Norway’s most photographed spots. The village of Reine is set against the mountain range and the inlet to the Reinefjord.
BREEZE III GTX
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GEIRANGER-TROLLSTIGEN (104KM) The drive along Trollstigen is one of the most dramatic in Norway, and the route offers highlights including 11 hairpin bends as well as the view from Ørnesvingen down to the Geirangerfjord. Lush valleys, sheltered strawberry-growing areas, precipitous mountains and vantage points add to the scenery. In between, houses are dotted throughout – from the narrowest mountain ledges to the smallest crags.
For centuries, the road was an important artery between Valldal and Åndalsnes until the construction of the Trollstigvegen road in 1916. Parts of the original pack horse track are still visible and passable on foot. Some of the most sensational installations have been constructed on this stretch, including viewing points at Ørnesvingen, Gudbrandsjuvet gorge and Flydalsjuvet gorge. This route includes a ferry ride from Eidsdal to Linge – however, you can convert part of the
drive into a fjord cruise of the world famous UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord, getting you close to the picturesque waterfalls of Dei Sju Systre, Friaren and Brudesløret.
HARDANGER (158KM) The dramatic scenery of Hardanger is framed by large waterfalls: Steinsdalsfossen, Vøringsfossen, Skjervefossen, Låtefoss and Furebergfossen. Each possesses unique qualities – at Stein-
sdalsfossen, you can follow the path behind the cascade, while Låtefoss is famous for its twin falls that spray showers on the road, which is a stonevault bridge that used to carry tourists
back in the 19th century. The picturesque roads wind through a wealth of scenery, from steep-sided valleys to apple orchards, which are best visited in spring and summer for fruit picking. Fruit have been grown in Hardanger since the 14th century, and artists have always been drawn here for its nature. Taking you from Granvin to Låtefoss, this route consists of four stretches, with two ferry rides needed to cross the picturesque fjords of Hardanger and Eid. At the idyllic rest area of Steinstøberget, there’s a view over the Hardagerfjord and the Folgefonna glacier.
HARDANGERVIDDA (67KM) The road crosses the biggest high mountain plateau in Northern Europe, passing deep, lush valleys, high mountains, glaciers in the far distance, waterfalls and azure fjords. The road snakes across wide plains to the narrow, steep, untamed valley of Måbødalen, until suddenly you exit the high mountain region into the little village of Eidfjord set deep within the Hardangerfjord.
routes, including an old road up to Fossli which was completed in 1916 and is still accessible on foot. The Hardangervidda plateau – Norway’s largest national park and Europe’s largest high-altitude plateau – boasts one of
The main attraction is Vøringsfossen, Norway’s best known waterfall which thunders down the mountain at 182m and empties into incredibly scenic Måbødalen valley. Driving through Måbødalen’s narrow, steep valley up to the Hardangervidda plateau is dramatic, involving driving through tunnels and roads hemmed by vertical cliffs. The area is home to a number of historic
AURLANDSFJELLET (47KM) The most dramatic way to explore this route is to start from Lærdal and drive towards Aurlandsvangen. You’ll see the contrasts between the fjord and the high mountain region; running from Lærdalsøyri to Aurlandsvangen over the mountains, the highest point is 1,306m, and snow lies on the mountain throughout much of the year.
The drive takes you from fjords to mountains, from lush valleys to the stony wasteland of the high mountain region, allowing you to encounter many striking contrasts over a short distance. Other attractions close to this stretch are the villages of Lærdalsøyri, Flåmsbana, Aurlandsdalen and Nærøyfjorden. Three architectural attractions line the route, including the spectacular viewing point at Stegastein – its design almost
makes you feel as if you’ll fall off into the fjord below. The route involves driving through the Lærdal Tunnel, the world’s longest road tunnel (24.5km) that features its own air treatment plant. Taking about 20 minutes to cross, the photogenic tunnel is divided into four sections that are broken up by “mountain caves” – rest stops equipped with lights that give the illusion of daylight.
the biggest populations of wild reindeer in Europe, so you may be able to spot them if you’re patient. From the plateau, there’s a stunning panorama with the Hardangerjøkulen glacier in the background.
Camels at Petra
Mention Jordan, and most would think of Petra, the wild expanse of Wadi Rum’s desert, the hauntingly still Dead Sea, and maybe even the spiritual site of Mount Nebo. For a country that’s relatively small (you can drive from the north to the south in 6 hours), it’s also got a surprising diversity of landscapes for those who stay long enough to explore all it has to offer. With the recent development of the 650km-long Jordan Trail, it’s rebooting tourism to this corner of the Middle East. Launched in 2017, this long-distance hiking trail runs from the north in Umm Qais all the way to the Red Sea in the south. The Trail network takes in some of the country’s best routes, across rugged mountains, arid backcountry, stunning deserts, and hidden wadis, and would take more than a month to hike from end to end.
Bedouin on mule
JORDAN’S SPECTACULAR HIKES
Dana to Feynan route
In between hikes, there’s ample opportunity to float in the famous Dead Sea, dive in the Red Sea, explore ancient historic sites, or simply enjoy traditional Bedouin hospitality in a desert camp.
JORDAN TRAIL Many visitors tend to hit Jordan’s main attractions (Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum), but miss out on the country’s beautiful interior. While they’re only seeing just one part of Jordan, this also means that visitors along the Jordan Trail get to explore these hidden gems intimately, away from the crowds. While tackling the entire trail takes a biblical 40 days, it’s broken into eight sections, each crossing diverse and dramatic landscapes.
You can complete a portion of it as a day-trip, or combine them for overnight trips. Parts of the trail are categorised from easy to difficult, as it’s designed for everyone from casual walkers to serious adventurers. Conceived as a sustainable tourism product to benefit local communities, the Jordan Trail winds through 52 settlements where you can spend time with the locals, camping along the route or staying with Bedouin families.
DANA TO PETRA SECTION
This route features one of the most dramatic treks in Jordan, beginning with a drop from the mountain plateaus of the Araba Valley and crossing several climate zones before negotiating labyrinths of hills and bucolic countryside to end at the Nabatean masterpiece of Petra. It was recently named by National Geographic as one of the 15 best hikes in the world. View of Dana canyon from the village
Dana to Feynan (14km) The trail begins from the village of Dana, set on the edge of a cliff with spectacular views of the Dana canyon below. Following a dirt track, the hike – which takes 4 to 6 hours – descends steeply to the valley floor amidst spectacular sandstone scenery; the surrounding mountains and canyons are part of the Great Rift Valley. From here, you’re entering the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordans’ largest nature reserve that encompasses four geographical zones which are home to rare animals, like the Arabian Wolf and the Nubian Ibex. Some of these may be spotted on a hike, although you’re much more likely to spot shepherds and their flock of sheep and goats (the valley is home to the Feynan Bedouin tribe). Each herd is usually accompanied by a donkey, which doubles as the
The centrepiece of the Jordan Trail is the 72.6km-long Dana to Petra section, which consists of 4 portions including Dana to Wadi Malaga, and Little Petra to Petra.
Goats along the route
smattering of herbs and wildflowers if you’re hiking in spring. After the first few steep kilometres, the relatively flat trail follows the canyon all the way to Feynan, and the terrain is a mix of scree, singletrack, and desert sand as you approach Feynan, where you’ll see several campsites of the local Bedouin community. As the entire trail is exposed, sun protection is necessary.
shepherd’s main mode of transport. An interesting critter you may spot is the Sinai Agama lizard; the male turns azure-blue during mating season (spring to early summer). The scenic trail offers panoramas of ochre canyons and dry riverbeds which are carpeted with lush greenery and a
At the end of the trail, you can overnight at Feynan Eco Lodge which is run by the local community. Chosen by National Geographic Traveler as one of the best 25 Ecolodges in the world, it’s an adobe building that’s totally off the grid. Lit by candlelight, guests at the lodge can enjoy a range of all-inclusive activities, from sunset hikes to Bedouin experiences and stargazing nights.
to Nabatean tombs and homes that are carved high in the canyon walls. Before they were conquered and absorbed into the Roman Empire, the Nabataeans controlled a vast tract of the Middle East, and the remains of their innovative networks of water capture, storage, transport, and irrigation systems are found to this day throughout the area.
Little Petra to Petra (12.6km) The trail from Little Petra to Petra is often called ‘the back door’, and it’s definitely the gem of the Jordan Trail. Starting from Little Petra – a 2,000-year old Nabatean city that’s not as crowded as its bigger sibling – the pleasant trail follows a well-maintained track skirting sandstone mountains to reach the Monastery, one of Petra’s sites. If you’re intending to hike this route into Petra, you’ll have to purchase a ticket – unless you have a Jordan Pass – ahead of time online or in person from the main entrance at Wadi Musa, as park rangers patrol the entire area. This easy hike follows the trail the Nabateans would have taken between these two archaeological sites, and passes a couple of small Neolithic sites as well. The trail takes you through shaded gorges and arid hills lined with seasonal flowers, before taking you up to a narrow canyon – following a series of staircases – surrounded by cliffs and a spectacular panorama.
Upon exiting the chasm, a final turn opens out to a valley with ancient Nabatean caves before the peaks of the intricately-carved Monastery come into view after a 7km walk. This is the back route into Petra, and it’s far less crowded than coming in via the main entrance from the opposite side at Wadi Musa. The Monastery, which has a Bedouin cafe in front of it, is another 2km or so from the main sites of Petra, which you can access via a series of ancient Nabatean stairs that lead you down through the very picturesque narrow canyon towards the aptly-named Colonnade Street. Little stalls selling tourist trinkets line the canyon path, which is also populated by donkeys ferrying tourists up the steps.
The entire site of Petra is a lot larger than most people think, partly thanks to the fact that excavations are currently ongoing (the vast majority of it is still underground and untouched). Continuing along the main drag, you’ll see The Treasury – the emblem of Petra – carved into the sandstone walls. It’s technically a facade with a small inner hall once used as a royal tomb. From here, it’s another 2km to the exit via the famous narrow canyon of Petra Siq, which features an ancient trough that once carried water into the city, carved into the sandstone walls.
The canyon then opens up to views of The Royal Tombs and the ancient Theater, where the landscape is flat and camels add to the modes of transport for tourists. Here you’ll see Roman columns and amphitheatres in addition
Hiking route to Petra The Royal Tombs of Petra
23 Hiking through olive groves The Treasury
Yarmouk Nature Reserve with views of Golan Heights
OTHER HIKES Aside from the Jordan Trail, the country’s varied topography means that you can also hike through wet canyons, across deserts, and even past green hills dotted with olive groves.
Jordan, and in Yarmouk Nature Reserve you can hike the undulating hills with constant views of the Golan Heights, the Great Rift Valley, and the Sea of Galilee. It’s a bucolic scenery that’s more reminiscent of the Med than the Middle East, and you’ll often find livestock like cows and goats grazing in the fields. In spring, the region is a riot of wildflowers, where bright red poppies and black irises (the national flower) dot the landscape. While there are no marked hiking trails through the reserve, local guides can take you to hotspots like Hema Hot Springs; if you’re lucky, you can spot hyenas, stone marten, and maybe a Mesopotamian tortoise.
North: Yarmouk Nature Reserve Green, lush valleys dotted with olive groves dominate the northern region of
A visit to the north of Jordan is not complete without seeing Umm Qais, the ruins of the Decapolis city of Gadara, which is unique as a juxtaposition of Roman ruins within an Ottoman-era village. Perched atop a hill, it has a
tremendous vantage point of three countries (Jordan, Syria, and Israel), as well as sweeping views of the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. Ruins at Umm Qais
Central: Dead Sea The Dead Sea is probably one of the most visited natural sites in Jordan – this lowest point on earth is 430.5m below sea level, and is famous for its therapeutic mud. A number of resorts – from luxurious international 5-star brands to day resorts – line its shores, with views of Israel and Palestine on the opposite shoreline. Many visitors come here to float in this hypersaline lake – it’s so salty that you can float in just a foot of water – and slather their bodies in the mineral-rich mud from the shore.
Desert: Wadi Rum Wadi Rum is a vast expanse of desert, dotted with majestic sandstone mountains (jebels) that are reminiscent of large rocks scattered randomly by giants. Some of these vertical rock faces have been recently bolted for rock climbing – a sport that’s gaining traction in the community here. Even though it’s a desert, there are plenty of attractions ranging from picturesque canyons to rolling sand dunes and towering rock formations – this unique landscape has attracted plenty of moviemakers, with The Martian and Aladdin being the latest films to be shot in this region. Apart from rock climbing, there are plenty of canyons to hike – the most popular are the Siq al Barah and Raqabat Canyon. Navigating these shady canyons requires scrambling, and in some sections you’ll be walking on precipitous edges or crawling through tight spaces; these hikes are usually tackled with a Bedouin guide as they’re not signposted, and you can easily get lost. A typical Wadi Rum experience includes camping in a Bedouin tent and a 4WD excursion to sites like Lawrence of Arabia’s house and a number of unique rock formations where you can go for short hikes. Camel safaris and hiking trips are also popular.
Bedouin campsites – ranging from ‘wild’ camps with no facilities to luxury digs with en suite toilets – are discreetly dotted across the desert, mostly situated by the foot of mountains. Every campsite has a central fireplace where tea and conversations flow freely, reflecting the essence of traditional Bedouin hospitality.
Bordering the Dead Sea is a series of canyons that are ideal for hiking and canyoning expeditions. The most famous canyon in this region is Wadi Mujib, which is a popular canyoning spot with its breathtaking scenery and fast-flowing rivers. If you prefer short hikes, a number of smaller canyons take you through boulder-strewn wet wadis lined with lush palms – these are some of the lowest canyons on earth you can hike through. Just look out for cairns to guide you through the canyons, often placed by previous visitors.
The landscape comes alive by the light of sunset, when the sandstone and desert turn into a bright orange hue against the deep blue sky. By sundown, it’s a great place for stargazing; Wadi Rum was a favourite spot of Lawrence of Arabia thanks to its uninterrupted views of the night sky. He described the desert as “vast, echoing and God-like.”
AQABA Among Aqaba’s most famous wrecks are the Cedar Pride, a Lebanese freighter with an assortment of soft and hard coral, and The Tank which sites at just 5m deep just 20m from shore (making it ideal for snorkellers as well).
Aqaba is a bustling seaside city that is home to some interesting historic sites, but its location along the Red Sea is its biggest draw. There are over 20 dive sites along its coastline, each varying heavily in topography and vibrant marine life, where you can see anything from turtles to colourful corals and wrecks.
In addition, much of the marine park has buoyed off sections for snorkellers to safely explore the reefs of First Bay and the Japanese Garden, which at 6m deep, features pinnacles that are rich in marine life.
If you’re planning to hike the Jordan Trail, remember that much of it runs through the desert which can get very hot – the best time to visit is between October and April. Guides are available for hire via the Jordan Trail Association. If you can spare about 40 days, there is an annual thru-hike event that takes visitors through the entire length of the Jordan Trail. Check Jordan Trail’s website for updates. For security purposes, there are multiple checkpoints dotted throughout the country, so always bring your passport with you. Jordan Pass The Jordan Pass is well-worth the fee (from US$99) as it not only covers your tourist entry visa (for a minimum 3-night
stay), it also offers free entry to over 40 of Jordan’s attractions including Petra, Jerash, Wadi Rum, and much more. Without the pass, the single-entry visa costs US$56, and a 1-day Petra entrance is 50JD (US$70). You can purchase the pass online (www.jordanpass.jo) prior to entry.
4WD ride in Wadi Rum
As there is currently no direct flight to Jordan, the fastest connection is via the Middle East. Royal Jordanian operates a codeshare flight with Qatar (via Doha) to Amman, while other airlines like Emirates and Turkish also offer connections to Jordan. Check out www.visitjordan.com for more; for details on the Jordan Trail, visit www.jordantrail.org.
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, renowned for its vibrant nightlife, local cuisine, and multicultural scene amalgamating Vietnamese, Chinese, and French influences. The city also serves as the gateway for those who are looking to access the mountainous rural scenes of Vietnam. While Hanoi can be visited all year round, if you are also planning to visit Trang An, spring and fall are the best times.
HANOI AND TRANG AN By Pakaporn Tanasarnsopaporn
original Egg Coffee, and Cộng Café which is a chain of cafés with a decor reminiscent of Hanoi in the 60s. However, a more authentic experience can be had by sitting on one of those short stools and tables offered by most cafés.
Apart from being the cultural hub of Vietnam, Hanoi is also known for the small alleys of the Old Quarter that hide quirky shops and local cafés. The most famous areas in Hanoi are the Ba Dinh District (the French Quarter) where you can find government offices as well as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the Hoan Kiem District (the Old Quarter), which is the ancient commercial district of Hanoi. Old Quarter St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Hanoi, is one of the major landmarks in the Old Quarter. Though the church’s exterior has been heavily damaged by years of neglect and heavy
pollution, you can still see the glory of this surviving piece of French colonial architecture. Strolling down the many narrow streets in the Old Quarter, you will see many small mom-and-pop stores as well as an abundance of cafés. A popular recommendation is Giang Café for its
The Old Quarter revolves around Hoan Kiem Lake which, according to legend, was where the Golden Turtle God requested Emperor Lê Lợi to return the magic sword that its master (the Dragon King) bestowed upon the Emperor to fight against Chinese army. At Hoan Kiem Lake, you can see the Turtle Tower and the red Huc Bridge which leads to the small Ngoc Son Temple. You may also spot a soft-shelled turtle that is believed to be of the same species as the Golden Turtle God.
French Quarter The French Quarter is where government buildings, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, HCM Mausoleum, and the Temple of Literature are located. The overall atmosphere of the French Quarter is much calmer and more orderly than the Old Quarter, with wider and more accessible streets.
hat as a way to show respect to Vietnam’s late leader. Rulebreakers will get a warning, or even be asked to leave.
Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi and located on a small island on Hanoi’s West Lake. Not too far away, the body of Ho Chi Minh is kept inside the HCM Mausoleum. Here, you join one-way traffic and slowly make your way from the gate to the mausoleum in a very orderly fashion. Inside, visitors are not allowed to use their phones or cameras, talk, or wear a
Another mustsee in the French Quarter is the Temple of Literature – Vietnam’s first university. Here, you will be walking the same path ancient scholars took to take the Royal Exam and become government officials. Those who passed the Royal Exams would have their names engraved on the Turtle Steles displayed in the Third Courtyard.
DAY TRIP FROM HANOI
A popular day trip from Hanoi is one to Bái Đính Temple, followed by a boat tour of the impressive Trang An Landscape Complex. There are many ways to get to Trang An from Hanoi (which are 90kms apart), including bus, train, motorcycle, private rental car, taxi, or a day tour. If you are on a budget and don’t mind a bit of an adventure, there are buses to either the main bus station in Ninh Binh or Trang An Landscape Complex. For less hassle, you can book a day tour that will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Bái Đính Temple is Vietnam’s largest temple complex as well as a popular site for Buddhist pilgrimages in Vietnam. Though the temple adheres to a Vietnamese architectural style, Chinese influences can clearly be seen. Bái Đính Temple consists of both the old temple and newly construct, larger temple. Within the peaceful compound, it is a great place to stroll around and enter a state of meditation.
The gem of the region is undoubtedly the UNESCO-listed Trang An Landscape Complex, which is often known as Halong Bay on land – it is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, vertical cliffs. Movie fans may know that some of the scenes “Kong: Skull Island” were filmed in this very landscape. Dense rainforest drapes the landscape (and the karst peaks), blending naturally with extensive paddy fields that create a picturesque patchwork of colour.
Trang An has been overlooked by many visitors, but it is slowly gaining in popularity. The entire complex is renowned for its boat cave tours; it takes about an hour to experience this majestic landscape, in addition to exploring numerous caves. For now, this attraction is well-maintained and the boat handlers do not ask for tips. Most visitors come during spring and fall, as winter here can be very cold and wet. However, even in wet weather, the fog can sometimes add to its dreamlike scenery.
Of Japan’s literally hundreds (or thousands) of different destinations, catering to everything from skiing, to wildlife, to urban adventure, or sandy islands and beaches, Hiroshima stands out as unique for its quirky mix of ancient history and modern culture – made all the more intriguing for first-time visitors, given the city’s long association with the destruction of WWII. Situated on the tranquil Seto Inland Sea, Hiroshima also boasts a diverse range of offshore attractions which includes a chain of islands (the Geiyo islands) set within the Inland Sea, as well as the famous Miyajima, home to the red torii gates of Itsukushima shrine.
HIROSHIMA AND THE BAY HIROSHIMA CITY Hiroshima Castle
One of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the original Hiroshima Castle dated from the 1590s, and before being destroyed in WWII, was one of Japan’s most famous. Known locally as “Ri-jo” (Carp Castle), the current replica dates from 1958. It’s still regarded as one of Japan’s most outstanding examples of the hirajiro-style (ie. flatland castle), with its 5-storey tower. The castle is also one of the city’s most popular sites for seasonal sakura (cherry blossom) viewing. Set within the castle grounds, the traditional Shukkeien garden is a classic Japanese-style garden, with its koi pond and numerous sakura trees, making it a picturesque site. For a small additional fee, in April you can join in a kanou chakai, an event that combines cherry blossom viewing
with cha-do (tea ceremony), held in a traditional tea house.
Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima’s largest tourist site is the world-famous Peace Memorial Park. Situated on the site of what used to be Hiroshima’s packed downtown CBD (which was levelled by the Atomic Bomb), the vast site was redeveloped to both memorialise the city’s dead. The most famous site within the park is the Peace Bell. Set on a manmade island, in a lotus pond (itself symbolic of the beauty which can arise even from the murkiest water), the massive bell can be heard tolling throughout the day, as visitors ring it. Donated in 1964 by local survivors, the bell is engraved with a borderless world map, symbolising Hiroshima’s hope for unity and peace.
The city’s most iconic building is in fact the skeletal remains of its former Industrial Promotion Hall. Better known as genbaku domu (“A-Bomb Dome”), the building is the site where the atomic bomb actually struck, and has been kept in its exact, crumbling condition, as a lasting reminder of that day. Local high school students often volunteer as free guides for foreign tourists during weekends.
Hiroshima’s Trams: Hiroshima is home to Japan’s largest urban tram network, covering more than 35km, making it a fast and affordable way to get around the downtown area. Dating from the early 1900s, like everything in Hiroshima, it was almost completely destroyed in 1945, with the exception of a few now historic, street cars. These include the famous No. 653, which many older locals have a strong emotional attachment to, and along with dozens of other street cars donated by cities around the world, have filled out Hiroshima’s historic tram fleet, returning it to its former glory.
The picturesque port town of Tomonoura – in Fukuyama district north of Onomichi – faces the Seto Inland Sea, featuring an endearing oldfashioned fishing townscape. It prospered in the Edo era when merchant ships would dock at its port, leading to thriving industries such as the production of homeishu which is a medicinal liquor made with shochu and 16 herbs.
EDO-ERA TOWNS While many of Hiroshima’s historic districts have been lost due to fires, earthquakes, wars and city redevelopment over the centuries, some have managed to preserve much of their traditional atmosphere.
200 years (1639 to 1853). The ruling Tokugawa shogunate forced Japanese merchants to trade only along the coastline, making Mitarai’s protected harbour a favoured place to drop anchor.
While it seems like small peaceful town today, it was once a bustling hub for trade, entertainment and pleasure during its heyday. Most of its traditional buildings are preserved to this day, including the geisha house, a working clock-maker shop, and traditional teahouses.
Situated on Osaki Shimojima island within the Seto Inland Sea, the Edo-period town of Mitarai is a wellpreserved gem of an anchorage port that once served commercial boats during the ‘sakoku’ period when Japan was isolated from the world for over
The old town centre has a warren of photogenic alleys lined with rustic wooden houses, some selling homeishu, like the Ota Residence which is well-preserved to this day. A wealth of temples and shrines surround the town centre, while the bayfront is still littered with small boats. One of the best views of the Seto Inland Sea can be appreciated from the Edo-period guesthouse, Taicho-ro.
ANNUAL EVENTS Oyster Festival
Within Japan, Hiroshima is famous for its oysters, and hosts a series of annual oyster events.
Toukasan Yukata Festival
Held in early June, the Toukasan Yukata Festival marks the start of summer, when Japanese traditionally begin wearing the summer kimono, the yukata. Running over 3 days between the city’s Peace Boulevard and Enryu-ji Temple, the festival attracts nearly half a million people. During the day, it’s marked by food stalls, feeding flocks of attendees who stroll the area in their yukata, while at night it erupts into taiko drumming and ancient bon-style dance performances.
Running roughly from mid-January to late-February, these are generally free-to-enter, run as street food fairs with discount prices on everything from raw, to deep-fried, grilled and hot pot oysters. The biggest of these is the Miyajima Oyster Festival, held annually in mid-February, which is accompanied by traditional drumming and kagura performances.
MIYAJIMA Lying just offshore in Hiroshima Bay, the historic island of Miyajima is one of the prefecture’s most famous sites. Also known as Itsukushima, both names refer its most iconic spot, the Itsukushima Shrine.
The shrine houses the renowned Heike Nokyo, an ancient set of 32 lavishly decorated sutra scrolls gifted by its patrons, the Heike Clan in 1164; the scrolls are now considered one of Japan’s national treasures.
The island has many charming walking paths that surround the town, some leading through the Momijidani (Maple Valley) which is the island’s prime fall foliage spot in autumn. In spring, the paths also lead through clusters of cherry trees which bloom in early April.
The shrine is open year-round, and if you’re lucky you can even attend a traditional Noh performance in the main prayer hall overlooking Hiroshima Bay. The shrine is also lit up nightly, making it even more photogenic.
Miyajima is actually part of the neighbouring Hatsukaichi City, but easily accessible from downtown Hiroshima. It’s less than 30 minutes by train (or tram), to Miyajimaguchi Station followed by a 10-minute ferry ride. There are also direct boats from the Peace Memorial Park (1 hour), or Hiroshima Port (25 minutes).
The island’s most important site is the namesake shrine with its famous floating red torii gate – Hiroshima’s most popular icon. The torii itself is one of Japan’s official Top 3 Sights, while the entire shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded over 1,400 years ago, and rebuilt numerous times, the Shinto shrine seemingly “floats” on water at high tide (at low tide, it’s part of the beach). As the island was considered sacred, the shrine was originally built over water to detach it from the land, keeping the island “pure” while allowing “impure” commoners to still visit the temple. Traditionally, boats had to arrive at high tide, floating through the red torii gate.
While the island is home to 2,000 people, its most famous residents are the local sika (Japanese spotted deer). Once seen as messengers of the Shinto gods, it was forbidden to hunt them – a crime that used to be punishable by death. Since then, they’ve flourished, with a population of over 1,000 today which can be found wandering everywhere, and are known to be extremely curious and always on the lookout for a snack (it’s forbidden to feed them).
One of the best ways to see Miyajima is from the 500m summit of Mt. Misen. There’s a convenient ropeway up to the
Shishi-iwa Observatory, as well as three designated trails leading to the top (2 hours, one-way). At the foot of the mountain is Daishoin, one of the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism. In addition to religious buildings, there’s also a tea room and a cave filled with 88 icons representing the Shikoku Pilgrimage. You can perform the Buddhist ritual of spinning metal sutra wheels when walking up the temple’s steps.
INLAND SEA Hiroshima is situated along the Seto Inland Sea, which is dotted with islands, each with its own attraction. The islands – known as Geiyo Islands – are associated with the legend of the Murakami Pirates, watchmen of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea in the 16th century. Today, the area is renowned throughout Japan for its citrus groves. While many of the smaller islands are only accessible via ferries, six are connected via a series of bridges called the Shimanami Kaido, which is accessible from the port town of Onomichi. Characterised by its many slopes, Onomichi is famous for its 2.5km-long Temple Walk, which takes visitors up and down the slopes passing the route’s 25 temples, with spectacular views of the bay.
There are commanding views from the tower. Another draw is Mt. Shirataki with its gohyaku-rakan, a trail which is lined with 500 rock statues of the disciples of Buddha. Carved at the end of the Edo era (1603-1868), each rakan features a different face. The island is also birthplace of citruses like anseikan and hassaku, and a popular souvenir is the Hassaku Daifuku, which consists of the fruit wrapped in glutinous rice cake.
Innoshima: The main draw on Innoshima is the Innoshima Suigun Castle (Innoshima Navy Castle), which was built on the site of what was believed to be a watchtower, surrounded by fortifications around the perimeter of the island.
Ikuchijima: The biggest attraction is the Kosanji Temple, a temple complex comprising replicas of famous traditional Japanese religious buildings. Built in 1935, some of these replicas may be kitschy, but there are also some gems, like the 5-storey pagoda based on Nara’s Muroji Temple and the Koyomon Gate, based on the Yomeimon Gate of the Toshogu Shrine at Nikko. The complex is also a cherry blossom site. Omishima: The largest of the Geiyo Islands, this “Island of the Spirits” is home to Oyamazumi Shrine which has the greatest collection of samurai weaponry and armor in the whole of Japan. It’s also the site of several unique museums, including the modern Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture and Tokoro Museum of Art.
GETTING AROUND THE ISLANDS
Island hopping is a popular activity, and can be done as a cycle tour – via the Shimanami Kaido road with its dedicated cycle lane – or on a ferryhopping trip. The 60km-long Shimanami Kaido is an expressway with a separate cycling lane that connects six islands – Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Omishima, Hakatajima, and Oshima – via a series of bridges, connecting Onomichi on the mainland to Imabari on Shikoku Island. This gentle cycling route offers superb views over the sea, and bike rentals are available on each of the islands (¥1,000 deposit, ¥1,000/ day). The cycling route actually starts from Mukaishima, accessible via a 5-minute ferry ride from Onomichi. The Geiyo islands are also accessible by ferry, which you can take from Onomichi and Mihara. These ferries also offer inter-island services which you can utilise to break from cycling between islands. For a unique perspective of the islands, you can hop onboard one the Setouchi Seaplane for an aerial view of the Seto Inland Sea. The flight takes you on a loop over islands like Innoshima and Ikuchijima; a scenic 50-minute sightseeing course starts from ¥32,000.
Numerous airlines including SQ and SilkAir now offer direct flights to Hiroshima. The city’s also easily accessible from nearby Osaka, via the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen (80 minutes), allowing visitors to optionally combine both cities, flying into Hiroshima and returning via Osaka (or vice versa).
The Lone Star State boasts a unique culture formed by its rich history and journey to statehood. Throughout Texas history, whether during exploration, colonisation, revolution or expansion, Texans stayed busy establishing forts, presidios, military camps, barracks and stockades to ward off potential enemies, some of which are still standing. The state honours the frontier lives at dozens of sites where visitors can take a step back in time and get a glimpse at what life on the frontier was really like.
HISTORICAL TEXAS FORTS
In San Angelo, Fort Concho was established in 1867 and still stands today. Built on the banks of the Concho River, the Fort served as regimental headquarters for some of the most recognised frontier units in Texas history, including the 10th Cavalry known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Fort Concho soldiers patrolled the Texas frontier for nearly 22 years, providing the nearby community of San Angelo a chance to grow and prosper. Despite its closure in 1889, surviving structures include 23 original buildings, now restored and preserved as a National Historic Landmark. Barracks, headquarters, the hospital, and officer
residences serve as a museum, exhibit halls, offices, visitor centre, and archives for much of the surviving artifacts related to Fort occupation. In addition, the landmark Fort hosts a re-creation of Company A of the 10th Cavalry, the infamous Buffalo Soldier regiment comprised entirely of African American enlisted men. Reenactments, performed by volunteers, include uniforms and procedures accurate to the period. The Fort hosts a calendar of festivals and celebrations throughout the year, including Buffalo Soldier Heritage Day and Fort Concho Frontier Day.
FORT SAM HOUSTON
At Pioneer Village in Gonzales, about an hour’s drive from San Antonio, the Village is best known as the site of the first clash of the Texas Revolution. A cannon, borrowed from the Mexican government, became a catalyst for Anglo settlers in the town. When Mexican authorities sent soldiers to retrieve the cannon in 1835, settlers rallied around a defiant, now wellknown call: “Come and take it.” Today, the Gonzales Memorial Museum is home to the cannon and the sprawling layout of buildings including a barn, a granary, two houses, a cabin, a school, an opry stage, a saloon and various shops. The village offers a glimpse into daily life on the range.
The military has played a key role in San Antonio’s development since 1718, and it remains one of the largest employers in town today. The city’s first permanent U.S. military installation, Fort Sam Houston, is a National Historic Landmark and home of the Fort Sam Houston Museum in San Antonio. The United States Army first established a presence in San Antonio at Camp Almus near the Alamo in October 1845 when the Republic of Texas was in the process of becoming a state. In addition to a small garrison, the post at San Antonio included a quartermaster depot. In 1890, the post was designated Fort Sam Houston in honor of Gen. Sam Houston. Many of the top commanders during WWI were Fort Sam Houston alumni.
The 3,434-acre Fort Sam Houston affords visitors an unusual opportunity to view the city’s military past while in an active military environment, as the fort currently hosts the Army Medical Command and the headquarters of the Fifth Army. Most of its historic buildings are still in use and thus off-limits, but three are open to the public. Housed in a 1905 mess hall, the museum’s artifacts and photos survey fort history from its 1845 inception to the present. Fort Sam Houston also encompasses the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum. As the nation’s only Army medical museum, the 40,000sq.ft. facility traces military medical advances and their impact on national healthcare.
FORT DAVIS Davis, the fort was first garrisoned by Lieutenant Colonel Washington Seawell and six companies of the Eighth U.S. Infantry. After 1867, when troops of the Ninth United States Cavalry reoccupied the fort, the town of Fort Davis became “the most important town in the Trans-Pecos country,” by virtue of its position at the crossroads of two important trails and its status as a base for travellers and hunters. In the 1880s Fort Davis became a ranching centre, as ambitious cattlemen poured into the Trans-Pecos. In West Texas, Fort Davis is one of the best surviving examples of a frontier military post in the Southwest. From 1854 to 1891, the fort was strategically located to protect immigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail.
The Fort’s location, at the mouth of a box canyon on the eastern side of the Davis Mountains, provided a suitable advantage for fending off attacks from Native Americans, mustering troops, and staging defenses. It is a vivid reminder of the significant role played by the military in the settlement and development of the western frontier. Named for Secretary of War Jefferson
By the end of the 1880s, Fort Davis harboured more than 100 structures and quartered more than 400 soldiers, including the famed Buffalo Soldiers. Only 24 buildings remain today, five of which are restored to their 1800s condition, along with over 100 ruins and foundations. Self-guided tours, hiking and special events highlight the Fort’s year-round programme.
FORT INGLISH Bailey Inglish, founder of Fannin County, brought the first settlers to claim homesteads on the rich black land of the Red River Valley in March 1837. During the early years of the Republic of Texas, Fannin County residents lived in constant danger of Indian attack, and Fort Inglish was a frequent refuge for settlers on the western edge of the Red River frontier. It was built in the summer of 1837 by Bailey Inglish in the form of a single blockhouse, at 16sq.ft and topped by an overhanging story measuring 24sq. ft, surrounded by a log stockade.
near-disaster of the Military Road expedition.
Although it was private, Fort Inglish played a role in several official campaigns against the Indians by the Army of the Republic of Texas. In November 1838, it served as the rendezvous point for the militia brigade of Gen. John H. Dyer during the RuskDyer Indian expedition, and in October 1840 Col. William G. Cooke’s troops straggled into Fort Inglish after the
The fort was used until 1843 when the Indians moved further west, and in 1976 a replica of Fort Inglish was built as a Fannin County Bicentennial project. The replica includes three 1830’s log cabins from the Fannin County area which have been furnished to represent a frontier cabin, trading post and a blacksmith shop. A restored doctor’s buggy and military wagon are
also on display in the stockade area. From April to September, groups can step back in time at Fort Inglish village and see demonstrations of various pioneer activities, including lye soap making, broom making, candle making and various outdoor skills. Visitors may also participate in pioneer activities such as shelling and grinding corn, frontier games, drawing water and washing clothes.
Holding command over the Southern Plains, Fort Griffin was part of a line of western defensive forts from 1867 to 1881. Although the original intention was for all buildings on the grounds to be permanent stone structures, they retained a temporary appearance throughout their existence. In the beginning, log houses called “picket” huts (built with vertical logs), tents and rough frame buildings with earth and canvas roofs were erected as provisional shelter. The scarcity of materials, shortage of funds and daily demands of military duty allowed for only six of the more than 90 structures of the garrison to be built wholly of stone. Although Fort Griffin was known on the frontier to be a very tidy, disciplined place, it was an especially active fort and the troops were kept busy with protection and settlement of the frontier
with little time for building construction or maintenance. Remnants of the fort remain today at Fort Griffin State Historic Site near Albany, which is also home to the official Texas Longhorn Herd, offering opportunities for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, astronomers and families. Rock foundations, ruins and a few reconstructed buildings serve as a reminder of a once prominent 1800s fort. The campgrounds, located on the banks of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, offer an opportunity to relax under large shade trees, catch catfish in the river or hike nature trails. Due to the vast ranches surrounding the property, Fort Griffin has minimal light pollution. The result is an astronomer’s oasis with great skies for viewing constellations, planets and galaxies at Fort Griffin’s monthly stargazing events.
From reenactments to preserving artifacts, the Lone Star State is sure to provide a great time for those looking to the past and present. It’s a great way to learn about the history of Texas frontier life in the days when Texas was America’s forward defense against the Wild West. There are hundreds of forts scattered throughout the state that are perfectly preserved and still wear the scars of battles past.
SIRRU FEN FUSHI, MALDIVES Merely mention the name Maldives, and images of exotic private islands and palm-fringed beaches immediately come to mind. Stretching across an idyllic chain of remote atolls spread across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries. Covering nearly 90,000 sq.km. of azure seas, the Maldives is made up of 1,190 individual islands, spread over 26 vast atolls that sit atop a vast submarine plateau (the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge) spanning both sides of the Equator.
298sq.km. (or less than half the size of Singapore), the country’s 26 major atolls are individually some of the largest on earth, and collectively make up one of the biggest marine ecosystems on the planet. In fact, the word “atoll” itself is Maldivian in origin – coming from the local Dhivehi word, atholhu – a distinctly Maldivian terms adopted into numerous other languages, to describe the fringing coral reefs forming sea breaks around remote islands, essentially creating giant, lakes within the surrounding ocean, allowing unique marine life to thrive away from the pounding surf of the open seas.
Much of the country – 99% – is covered by the sea, but despite its comparatively tiny land size, at just
And it’s these natural wonders that have made the Maldives one of the world’s top draws for everyone from serious divers, to beachgoers and sun-seekers.
SIRRU FEN FUSHI NATION OF ATOLLS
Uniquely, many of the Maldives’ atolls are so large, they actually contain numerous faru, a native Dhivehi word for the localised phenomena of micro-atolls. These are essentially atolls-within-atolls – and often you’ll find dozens of microatolls within the sheltered waters of larger surrounding atolls, each dotted with dozens of individual islands – each one of which is literally a world unto itself. One of the best examples of this is the island of Sirru Fen Fushi, or “Secret Water Island“ in Dhivehi, which is located in the Maldives’ third-most northerly atoll, the Shaviyani Atoll (230km, 55 minutes from Male via seaplane). The island is situated within a large lagoon. Together with the neighbouring atolls of Noonu to the south, and Haa Dhaalu and Haa Alif to the north, Sirru Fen Fushi forms what’s essentially a giant series of interconnected lagoons enclosing more than 200 different islands, many surrounded by their own individual faru (micro-atolls).
FAIRMONT MALDIVES SIRRU FEN FUSHI Embodying the classic ideal of a tropical paradise, with its lush vegetation, pristine beaches, fringing lagoon, and remote privacy, the island of Sirru Fen Fushi measures just 17.5 hectares in size, and is home to a single, exclusive luxury resort – the eponymous Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi. The 120-villa resort includes a range of luxury over-water villas (each with a private pool), as well as rustic tented jungle villas situated within the island’s lush interior. Situated on one of the largest lagoons in the Maldives, the resort includes a 200m-long swimming pool which traverses the length of the island. Their in-villa dining is a new take on room service, and involves personal grills where meals are prepared and cooked – either by guests or their personal butlers – barbecue-style in the villas’ private sala. In addition to their luxurious facilities, fitness centre and spa, many of the biggest draws of Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi are found in its rich, surrounding seas.
AT A GLANCE Types of Villas: • 1, 2 & 3-room Beach Villas (360-1,155sq.m.) • 1, 2 & 3-room Water Villas (164-235sq.m.) • Tented Jungle Villa (525sq.m.)
All villas come with private plunge pool, personal butler service, bicycles, and private sala Dining: • 3 restaurants (International/ Japanese/ Seafood) • In-villa private barbecue dining • Castaway picnics (picnic on secluded islands) • Destination dining • Cooking classes Facilities: • Luxury spa • Fitness centre • Water sports centre • Tennis & volleyball courts • Art studio • Private yacht (dolphin tours, overnight cruises, village visits, etc)
MALDIVES EXCURSIONS DIVING
The Maldives is a series of 1,190 coral islands dotted over a series of coral reefs and sandbars, and while only a handful of the country’s islands have a land area larger than a few square kilometres each, their surrounding, sheltered atolls are some of the largest on earth. These in turn create vast, calm lagoons which are home to thousands of coral reefs inhabited by over 2,000 types of fish, ranging from massive migratory whale sharks and majestic eagle rays, to species like the colourful clown triggerfish and surgeonfish.
tip reef sharks, which along with other commonly encountered species like jackfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish, as well as octopus, are easily seen on shore dives right from the beachfront. The resort’s lagoon is also a favourite feeding (and breeding-) ground for endangered green sea turtles, encounters which are made all the more unique by the fact these gentle giants are the largest of all hard-shelled sea turtles, often growing to over 1m long, and weighing 150kg. Guests at the resort can also participate in their turtle release programmes.
Since fishing is the mainstay of the Maldivian economy, guests at the resort can also try their hand at fishing on board their authentic Maldivian dhoni. Guides are on hand to teach the art of traditional line fishing using tuna as bait, and any catch will be cooked upon return.
Sirru Fen Fushi’s lagoon is home to a number of prominent species, including big pelagics like eagle rays, mobula rays, and stingrays, along with black
Fairmont Maldives is also home to one of the only underwater art spaces of its kind in the world. Created by noted British sculptor and conservationist, Jason deCaires Taylor, the semisubmerged art installation can both be seen from the shore, or experienced first-hand by snorkellers. Envisioned to eventually become a living work of art, its centrepiece, the “Coralarium” has already begun forming an artificial reef, adding further to the island’s marine ecosystem.
For non-divers, the lagoon is home to resident pods of both bottlenose and spinner dolphins which can be readily seen frolicking every evening at sunset, and experienced up close and personal via the resort’s Dolphin Tour.
NEARBY ISLANDS There are several other small islands in the area, some of which are uninhabited and offer idyllic, deserted beaches fringed by lush jungle, while others are home to traditional Maldivian villages. One of the highlights of staying at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi is a day-trip to the nearby local communities, offering visitors the chance to experience a different, more traditional side of the Maldives. Utheemu Island The largest of these communities is situated on the nearby island of Utheemu (45 minutes away by boat), in the neighbouring Haa Alif Atoll. Home to
several small fishing villages, visitors to Utheemu can experience a traditional Maldivian teatime, with sweet cardamom tea accompanied by a variety of local snacks, or “short eats”, like bajiya (samosa), and gulhaa, a savoury deep fried dough ball filled with grated coconut, chilli, and fresh tuna. Utheemu is also an ideal place to try or even buy a bottle to take home, of homemade rihaakura, a traditional, salty fish paste made from tuna, that’s a staple of Maldivian cuisine. Other activities on Utheemu include watching – and even assisting – the local fishermen mend their nets, while local women grind coconut for traditional dishes like mas riha (a popular fish curry), or mas huni – the Maldives’ favourite, savoury breakfast food made of grated coconut, and tuna, and eaten with the handmade chapati, called roshi.
Outside of the village, the island’s most famous site is the Utheemu Ganduvaru palace, the ancestral home of the Maldives’ national hero, Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu, who defended the country against the Portuguese nearly 500 years ago. The palace is made largely of wood and sandstone, and is one of the oldest examples of classical Maldivian architecture with its carved wooden walls, and traditional features like swinging beds and coconut-oil lamps.
Open to modestly-dressed visitors outside of prayer times, it’s situated just a short walk away from Male’s largest mosque, the Grand Friday Mosque – whose golden dome has become of the city’s best-known landmarks.
Situated roughly in the middle of the Maldives, Male is both the country’s capital city as well as its most populous island. Home to nearly one third of the entire population of the Maldives and squeezed into an area of less than 6sq. km., Male is one of the most compact, and arguably, charming capital cities in the world.
obligatory stop for anyone visiting the Maldives. And while many tourists use it merely as an access point for the country’s other 1,189 islands, Male is a fascinating hive of activity in its own right, buzzing with urban life in its openair markets, many cafes, and narrow alleys and shops – something that contrasts strongly with most visitors’ preconceived notions of what to expect in the Maldives. Thanks to its compact size, the city’s a mass of colourful buildings and alleys, almost all of which boast stunning turquoise sea views in any direction.
Located just nearby is the Presidential Palace, or Mulee aage. Originally built as a palace for the last sultan of the Maldives a century ago, it’s situated near the aptly named Sultan’s Park, the site of an even earlier palace, along with the National Museum of the Maldives – which while modest in size, is home to several ancient Buddhist artefacts, carved from coral and sandstone, and dating back to the islands’ pre-Islamic past.
ATTRACTIONS IN MALE
It’s long been known as the “King’s Island”, thanks to its geographic position at the heart of the Maldives – a moniker that was doubly true over the centuries when the island was home to the country’s long line of Sultans. Today it’s home to the country’s international airport, making it an
Some of Male’s most famous sites include its mosques and palaces, which thanks to its compact geography are all located within a few minutes walk of each other in the vicinity of Jumhooree Maidan, aka Republic Square. Dating back to 1656, the Old Friday Mosque is one of Male’s oldest and most visited sites. Its walls are adorned with traditional Maldivian lacquerwork and carved frescoes, the most famous of which commemorates the arrival of Islam in the Maldives back in the 12th century.
Several airlines fly to the Maldives directly from Singapore, including Singapore Airlines and TigerAir, with a flight time of around 4.5 hours. Other airlines like Sri Lankan Airlines and China Eastern also fly to Male via Colombo. Within the Maldives, various local carriers – including national carrier Maldivian Airlines – services various inter-island routes from Male. To get to Sirru Fen Fushi, you can take a 55-minute seaplane ride from Male or a domestic flight to neighbouring island of Hanimaadhoo, followed by a 50-minute speedboat transfer. For more information about Sirru Fen Fushi, including availability and offers, visit www.sirrufenfushi.com.
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© Destination BC/Grant Harder
STORY BY Kate MacLennan
© Destination BC/Kari Medig
COASTAL BRITISH COLUMBIA
Think about winter in British Columbia and snowy mountain towns and top-notch skiing come quickly to mind. Yet to understand the landscape as locals do is to also experience another side of Canada’s westernmost province during its frostiest season: coastal life. During the year’s coldest months, British Columbia’s coast tells its own story — one of surprising diversity, where countless adventures and unique experiences capture the imagination and beckon all would-be explorers. The question is never what to do, but what to do first?
“BACKYARD” EXPLORATION Vancouver, British Columbia’s largest city, is as renowned for its outskirts, the vast wilderness, as for its sophisticated metropolitan core. Just a 30-minute drive from downtown, across the Burrard Inlet and over land that the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation have inhabited for millennia, Vancouver’s coastal waters beckon. A winter paddling tour explores the fjord at a leisurely pace, often in silence and alongside seals playing and eagles fishing; it’s a journey backed by snowcapped mountains that seem to spring from deep beneath the water below, rising sharply into the sky above. Sandwiched as it is between the Coast
Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver’s wintry precipitation also presents the perfect opportunity to make like a local and hike on hundreds of kilometres of well-marked, yearround trails, which in the rain are at their most mystical. From Vancouver’s Pacific Spirit Regional Park to its legendary North Shore, there’s no shortage of quick day trip adventures in the rainforest. Prefer to pedal? Mild temperatures and thick forests of fir, cedar and hemlock trees — not to mention numerous trails and a 9km bicycle path along the seawall — lure cyclists to the 405 hectares that make up Vancouver’s lush Stanley Park, even in winter.
For a quick escape beyond the city sights, Bowen Island is a scenic 20-minute ferry crossing from West Vancouver. It’s simple to self-guide once there, and wander through the woods along lush, secluded paths lined with waist-high ferns and towering trees. Ocean and mountain viewpoints provide scenic rewards along the way before ending at the island’s Artisan Square, a cultural hub that promises both culinary and creative adventures. If staying dry is preferred, head back to Vancouver for the city’s hot spots, from architecture and First Nations culture, to hip neighbourhood haunts and farmers market delights.
A HOP, SKIP AND A JUMP AWAY © Destination BC/Owen Perry
The word “relax” takes on a whole new meaning along the rolling eastern coastline of Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. Here, the mild winter climate is the envy of Canada, and the mellow pace, thriving arts communities and charming small towns rate high amongst British Columbians. The largest Pacific Island east of New Zealand, Vancouver Island is a place where Mother Nature is always at play; witness this from Qualicum Beach and Parksville, where resident Orcas
and dolphins can be spotted from secluded coves, and 250 species of birds flit annually through beautiful, nearby wetlands. On nearby Galiano Island, a morning spent exploring the rugged headlands, tidal lagoons and white shell beaches of Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, the oldest park in the Canadian Gulf Islands, provides the perfect segue to an afternoon of relaxing indulgence.
© Destination BC/Owen Perry
© Destination BC/Grant Harder
When it roars outside, choosing the perfect place to weather – and watch – a storm is an opportunity in itself. Few places boast the wondrously wild allure of Vancouver Island’s west coast. At the end of Highway 4, the longest east-west route across the Island, the charming and distinct towns of Tofino and Ucluelet are ground zero for spectacular winter storm watching; behold in fascination at The Wickaninninish Inn or a number of other properties perched on the edge of the province. Long Beach Lodge Resort not only has front row seats to each mesmerising tempest, but each room includes rain boots and hearty jackets for diving into the thick of them, while the bold can take surfing lessons
(complete with board and wetsuit) for a more literal immersion in the region. Now imagine an area larger than California or Japan, and twice the size of the United Kingdom. Fill it with soaring mountain peaks, turquoise glacial lakes, hot springs and the whispers of hundreds of indigenous generations through the ancient rainforest. This is Northern British Columbia. Zoom in on the northwesterly, pristine coastline packed with nature reserves, provincial parks and island archipelagos, and you have Haida Gwaii. Surfing isn’t naturally what comes to mind when one thinks of Haida Gwaii. But every winter, after the salmon have
For more on British Columbia’s destinations, visit HelloBC.com run through the region and grey whales have migrated east and south again, the North Beach Surf Shop’s annual Expression Session surf festival kicks off the season, and surfers drift north to carve out their stories on perfect – and often empty – waves. Thanks to “room and board,” a seasonal package offered by the North Beach Surf Shop in conjunction with eco-tourism lodge North Beach Cabins, not difficult to paddle out. In fact, “easy” is a veritable theme throughout the province’s coastal communities during any season. Seaside in British Columbia, life is about slowing down, revelling in the moment, and always having eyes open for that next, inevitable adventure.
© Rob Suisted
AROUND NZ’S LAKE PUKAKI © Miles Holden
Lake Pukaki is a shimmering blue jewel set into a grand alpine playground – an iconic New Zealand landscape of high mountain peaks, glacier fed alpine lakes and golden tussocks stretched beneath an endless sky. At the head of Lake Pukaki, New Zealand’s highest peak Aoraki Mt Cook dominates the turquoise ribbon of lake that fills an elongated ancient glacier-carved valley. The craggy peak draws serious alpinists and mountaineers from around the world, and the surrounding region is a popular destination for stargazing, winter snow sports, cycling, summer hiking and walking, and romantic getaways.
TASMAN DOWNS STATION Lake-town – one of the most extensive outdoor sets built for The Hobbit Trilogy – was created at Tasman Downs Station on the shores of Lake Pukaki. Sir Peter Jackson chose this part of the Southern Alps – the main divide stretching north-south the length of New Zealand’s South Island – as the setting for ‘Lake-town’ in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The whimsical lakeside village set sits over water incorporating clusters of two-storey wooden dwellings arranged around connecting walkways, waterways and wharves.
A pure distinctive light, the amazing turquoise hues of the lake and the sharp alpine landforms were all part of the attraction for the film-maker who has used this region three times to backdrop major location scenes in his The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies. But, while the irresistible beauty of this Middle-earth landscape is obvious, the region also offers an endless backdrop with plenty of room to move – a wild expanse, virtually unencumbered by human population and evidence of settlement.
© Camilla Rutherford
Walking & Cycling
Walkers and cyclists can experience some of New Zealand’s iconic outdoor activities in this outstanding landscape. Starting from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail is New Zealand’s longest continuous bike ride. The multi-day cycling trail descends over 609m and travels 300km to the coastal town of Oamaru. This trail showcases New Zealand’s geological, geographical and historical highlights from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.
AORAKI MOUNT COOK Visitors to the Aoraki Mount Cook region frequently remark on the colour contrasts that begin with the startling blue of the lakes – due to finely ground minerals in the glacierfed waters – green forested lowlands, golden tussocked hill country and magnificent snow-capped mountains. In spring and summer, the hills around the lake are covered with brilliantly coloured lupin flowers. Lake Pukaki is surrounded by big country. Sourced from the Tasman Glacier (New Zealand’s longest at 29km), the lake borders the eastern slopes of New Zealand’s greatest alpine park – Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. It is the largest of three lakes in the region which also encompasses the country’s highest mountains (19 peaks over 3,000m) and a series of glaciers that cover 40% of the park. Aoraki Mount Cook (3,754m) and the national park form part of Te Waipounamu-South Westland World Heritage Area in recognition of its outstanding natural values. One of the best ways to experience the majestic landscape is on scenic flights that offer an unending panorama of mountains, lakes, glaciers and the oceans on either side – the Tasman Sea on the rugged West Coast and the Canterbury Plains fringed by the surging Pacific Ocean. There are also options for landings on glaciers and snow, or cross country tours by 4WD and Argo, and glacier exploring by boat.
In 2012, the region gained international recognition as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – at 4,300 sq.km., it’s the world’s largest international park in the sky.
There are many walking trails for all levels of fitness throughout this region. Along with shorter walks, the southern edge of Lake Pukaki forms a one section of Te Araroa-The Long Pathway, a walking trail that travels the length of New Zealand. Other outdoor activities include kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, horse trekking and hiking. Local waterways are popular for salmon and trout fishing.
Film tourism Far from city lights, and under strictly controlled local ordinances, the goldrated dark sky reserve has almost light-pollution-free skies making for exceptional night sky viewing for the thousands of visitors who make the pilgrimage each year. Picturesque Lake Tekapo – a 30-minute drive north of Lake Pukaki – is the centre of stargazing tourism in New Zealand. Mt John Observatory above Tekapo is considered one of the most accessible observatories in the world. It’s home to six telescopes, including one which can observe 50 million stars each clear night. Stargazers can also visit Aoraki Mt Cook’s Hillary Alpine Centre and Planetarium – the world’s southernmost planetarium offers virtual 3D tours of the sky – or simply step outside on a clear night to witness the unforgettable southern night sky.
Sir Peter Jackson’s films have become the inspiration for a variety of film tourism activities in the region. Twizel – the region’s main town – appeared in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as the location for the Pelennor Fields. This was the largest scene filmed in the Trilogy, and many locals were employed on the film; some are now guides on daily tours revisiting this iconic location. The grassy fields that stretch to the foothills of the mountains look exactly as described in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.