Posted by: WS
Sikkim - Beautiful Home

India is a huge and diverse country. It is a popular tourist destination because of this variety: there are huge cities, snow capped mountains, delicious cuisine, many ethnic groups, historic sights like temples and monuments, wildlife, national parks, deserts, rivers, lakes, and so much more. It’s a good thing that there are affordable tours to this vibrant country, because there is so much to see and to do!

Most tourist arrive at the international airport in Delhi, and then start out on the tourist circuit called the “Golden Triangle.” This circuit begins with a visit to the sights in Old Delhi and in New Delhi, and then continues on to Agra, the home of the world famous Taj Mahal, and finally to Jaipur, the “Pink City” in Rajasthan.

These are three of the most interesting places to visit, but there are so many other places to see that it’s hard to make a choice. Sikkim is an area in northern India that not many people get to visit: this is a shame, because it is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Bordering Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet, Sikkim is a state in East India that lies in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain Range. The name comes from two words, “Su” and “Him.” Together they mean “Beautiful Home” and nothing could more aptly describe this area of India. Sikkim is 40% covered in forests and the terrain ranges from the snow covered mountains to lush green valleys: it’s nature gone wild!

The official language of the state of Sikkim is not Hindi which you might expect: it is Nepali. Hindi is often used as a second language, and educated people speak English. There are several other languages spoken in Sikkim including the Tibetan language.

There are many things to see and do in Sikkim. There are several lakes and one of these is Gurudongmar Lake. It sits at a very high altitude and is considered to be a sacred lake. Gurudongmar Lake freezes over during the winter except for one small area: tradition says that this part of the lake was touched by a famous holy man, Guru Padmasambhava.

Another famous Sikkim lake is Tsongmo Lake, also known as Tsomgo Lake and Changu Lake. It is a large lake that, like Gurudongmar Lake, is considered sacred by local Buddhists and Hindus. Many birds stop here during migration, and the lake is surrounded by forests. Nearby is Tseten Tashi Cave, a natural cave made up of three stories.

Chungthang is a town that is located at the confluence of two rivers, Lachen and Lachung Chu, and the beginning of the River Teeta. Legend says that Guru Rimpoche blessed Chungthang when he passed through the area.

Trekking is a popular thing to do in Sikkim. The Dzongri Trek is a short and easy trek suitable for beginners, and it is located in the west part of Sikkim. This trek is known for its unique landscape and scenic views. In addition to trekking, other outdoor activities in Sikkim include kayaking, mountain biking, mountain climbing, rafting, going on a yak safari, and much more.

After all this activity, try the local momos. They are dumplings filled with meat or vegetables. Wash this down with some locally brewed millet beer like Chee, Chhang, or Thumba.

If you have the opportunity, visit Sikkim, the “Beautiful Home,” during your tour of India!

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Udon Thani - Visiting Ban Chiang and Phu Phra Bat

There are so many things to see and do in Thailand that it is sometimes hard to decide what to do. This is what makes Thailand such a popular tourist destination. And because it is not an expensive country to visit, there are many affordable tours to Thailand.

What to do? Big cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai? Beaches on Phuket or in Krabi? Wild nightlife in Pattaya? Fantastic food?

What about 4,000 year old red painted pottery?

In the northeastern area of Thailand is the city of Udon Thani, sometimes simply referred to as Udon. It is the capital city of the Thai province of the same name, Udon Thani. It can be reached by air, train, bus, or car.

With a population of about 220,000 people, Udon Thani is the fourth largest city in Thailand. During the Vietnam War it was home to a large United States Air Force base. It is surrounded by one of the largest agricultural areas in Thailand, so agriculture along with commerce, shopping, and tourism are the mainstays of Udon Thani’s economy.

There are not that many things to see and do in the city itself. There parks like Nonbua with its lake and Chinese pagodas; and Nong Prajack with its lake that contains several small islands.

But one of the main reasons that people come to Udon Thani is because of its proximity to the Ban Chiang archaeological site just east of Udon Thani. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.

Although local villagers had unearthed several pieces of pottery in the past, they were not aware of the age or significance of what they had found. But this all changed in 1966.

Steve Young was an anthropology student from Harvard College and he was living in the area in 1966. He was familiar with the theory of ancient Southeast Asia civilizations, and so when he tripped on the root of a tree and landed on some pottery, he immediately recognized that they were quite old. He knew this from the fact that the firing technique was primitive and the patterns on the pottery were unique.

Young took samples of the pottery to show people in museums, in the Thai government, and to art historians and specialists to try to find out the age of the pieces. At first the pottery was thought to have been made between 4,000 BC and 3000 BC. However, when carbon dating was used, the dates were adjusted to around 2,100 BC.

During the excavations several other things were discovered in addition to the pottery: skeletons, pieces of bronze artwork like anklets, bracelets, and rings as well as tools, and pieces of rice. Some things date from the Neolithic period, some from the Bronze Age, and some from the Iron Age.

When you’ve had your fill of pottery, take a side trip to Phu Phra Bat National Park, one of the most interesting places to visit in Thailand. It is an area with natural sandstone formations that date back more than 3,000 years. Some of the formations are huge and very strange looking. Some people consider Phu Phra Bat to be a spiritual area. There are also Bronze Age cave paintings that can be seen in the park.

During your tour of Thailand, take a side trip to Udon Thani and check out these two interesting sights: Ban Chiang and Phu Phra Bat!

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The Cuisine of Bali

Bali is a popular destination for tourists because it is an exotic and enchanted island with beaches, volcanoes, brilliant green terraced rice fields, and warm friendly people. There are many tours to Bali and, because it is not an expensive destination, a trip to this special island can be quite affordable.

What can you expect to eat during your tour of Bali? There are many choices of cuisines in Bali from Chinese to Italian, but what is Balinese food like? What will you eat if you choose to try the local cuisine?

Believe it or not, Balinese cuisine is one of the most complicated cuisines in the world. The Balinese use an amazing variety of spices in their dishes, as well as many different kinds of fish, meat, and vegetables.

Balinese cuisine can be described as a combination of Indonesian cuisine along with Chinese and Indian cuisines. While the rest of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali retains its Hindu religion and traditions. This is why there are many Indian influences in Balinese food, including special dishes that are prepared only during certain religious celebrations.

Like most of the cuisines in this part of the world, rice is the main staple and is served with just about every meal. This should come as no surprise to visitors, when they see the many terraced rice fields. These fields are fed by a complex irrigation system that is hundreds of years old.

Beef is almost never eaten: this is again the result of the Hindu religion being the main religion of Bali. Chicken, pork, and seafood are eaten, and there is a wide variety of vegetables and fruits that make up Balinese cuisine.

Many Balinese dishes contain a spice paste called basa gede, also known as basa rajang. This paste is made from the following ingredients: Asian shallots, cumin, garlic, ginger, Indonesian bay leaves, nutmeg, palm sugar, red chili peppers, shrimp paste, and turmeric. Tabia lala manis is a popular condiment: it is a thin soy sauce that contains chili peppers.

Some of the best known Balinese dishes include Balinese satay, or satay lilit, made of spiced meat on skewers of lemon grass sticks; Babi guling, or celeng guling, which is a spit-roasted pig stuffed with chili, garlic, ginger, and turmeric; and bebek betutu, duck that is stuffed with spices and then wrapped in coconut husks and banana leaves and cooked in embers. All of these dishes are served with rice.

Lawar is in interesting Balinese dish: it is a mixture of unripe jackfruit, young banana flower, and chicken or pork. This is mashed together with chili, coconut, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and shallots.

Nasi campur Bali, also known as nasi Bali, is a dish that starts with a scoop of white rice and small portions of lots of dishes including eggs, meats, peanuts, and several kinds of vegetables. Some of these dishes will include corn, cucumber, fried tofu, grilled tuna, spinach, tempe, and vegetable curry. This dish is wrapped in banana leaves and sold by street vendors.

Some drinks you might want to try include Balinese tea: this is usually served hot with sugar and condensed milk so it can be very sweet. Balinese coffee is also popular. Brem is the name given to a rice wine, an alcoholic drink made from fermented black or white rice.

So bring your appetite with you on your tour of Bali. There are plenty of Balinese dishes waiting for you!

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The Arts and Crafts of Cambodia

Angkor Wat is one of the world’s most impressive sights, so it’s no wonder why many tourists visit Cambodia. Cambodia is not an expensive place to visit, and there are many affordable tours to this interesting country.

Angkor Wat is not only a popular tourist destination: it is also a prime example of one of the many arts for which Cambodia is famous. Stone carving! If you visit Angkor Wat, don’t rush through the complex: take your time to admire the skill of the Khmer artisans who carved these wonderful works of art.

Angkor Wat is one of several Khmer temple complexes in the area, and the other temples display this remarkable stone-carving talent just about everywhere you look. Some of the carving is two dimensional bas relief, and other things you will see are three dimensional carved sculptures.

Angkor Wat and the other temples show the amazing skill in another area: architecture. The Angkor Wat temple complex is the biggest religious monument in the world. The temple is surrounded by an enormous moat, and the temple mount represents Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu gods.

The Angkor Kingdom existed from about the 9th to the 15 centuries. But Khmer arts and crafts stretch back to ancient times. The making of textiles is one of these crafts. Silk weaving has been a Khmer art for 2,000 years. Even today the textiles that are being made use themes and motifs from ancient silk fabrics.

Textile weavers still use natural dyes like blue from the indigo plant, red from insect nests, and black, green, and yellow from the bark of certain trees. There are two weaving methods.

Ikat requires the weaver to tie-dye some of the yarn before weaving. Patterns include lattice, spots, and stars.

The second method is called uneven twill and is unique to Cambodia. Threads are made so that when the weaving is finished, one side of the fabric is one color, and the other side is another color.

Silk-weaving has become popular over recent years and there are weaving centers in several places in Cambodia including Siem Reap, the city close to Angkor Wat. This silk is usually produced for domestic use and is used for wrap-around skirts, tapestries, and furnishings like pillow covers.

Although Cambodia imports most of its cotton, cotton textiles are also an important part of Cambodian culture. Village women make cotton fabric at home and these fabrics are used in the home. The traditional scarf worn throughout Cambodia, the krama, is made of cotton.

There are other kinds of weaving. Baskets are usually made out of thinly cut bamboo, while mats are usually made out of reeds. The reeds can be left in their natural tan color or can be dyed. Furniture and other household items are made from rattan or wicker.

Cambodian pottery dates back to 5000 BC. These ceramics were used to hold food and water. Later, in the 11th and 13th centuries, making ceramics in the shape of animals like birds and elephants became popular.

Making objects out of silver also has a long history. Things like boxes, coins, ceremonial objects, and weapons were often made for the royal palace. Today silversmiths make boxes, jewelry, and souvenirs.

There are many beautiful pieces of artwork to be seen during your tour of Cambodia. Whether you are interested in buying souvenirs or just looking, you are sure to see some amazing handiwork!

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Luang Namtha - Hill Tribe Treks

Laos offers a variety of things to see and do. Costs in Laos are low, so this makes it an inexpensive place to visit and spend some time. There are many tours available to this interesting country, and some of these are very affordable.

Many people visit the capital city of Laos, Vientiane, and the former capital city, Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many other places to visit outside of these cities like Pakse, Vang Vieng, and the Plain of Jars.

In the very northernmost part of Laos, not far from the borders of China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, there is a small and interesting city called Luang Namtha. Although small, it is the largest city in the Laos province of Luang Nam Tha. One of the things that makes it interesting is that it is a divided city.

There is the old original town which is located near the airport. Unfortunately it was heavily bombed during the 1970s, so a new town was built not far away. Both towns are easy to walk around in by foot, but it’s best to take some form of public transportation like a tuk-tuk to get from one town to the other. Many people rent motorbikes to explore the town and the surrounding areas.

Although they are pleasant little towns, there is not a lot to see in them except for the night market. But most people come to Luang Namtha to do some trekking and, specifically, to visit hill tribes and villages in the nearby area. The Nam Ha National Protected Area is a popular place to visit.

In addition to the hill tribes, trekkers get to see the beautiful countryside of rice fields and rubber plantations, waterfalls, and jungles. Motorbikes are popular as are bicycles and kayaks. Some people choose to explore the area on their own, checking out the countryside, villages, and waterfalls outside of the jungle.

The ride from Luang Namtha to Muang Sing lasts about two hours and passes through the national park. There are many ethnic villages to visit in the Muang Sing area as well as the Gneung Phou Ku Lom waterfall. The spectacular Kao Rao caves and limestone karst scenery is the attraction on the trip to Vieng Phouka.

Other people choose to go with a tour company. Tour companies offer many choices. Some provide food, accommodations, and access to parts of the jungle and visits to hill tribes that are remote and not visited very often by outsiders.

Services vary widely, so it’s best to check out what each company will offer. Accommodations can range from a bed of leaves on the jungle floor to large houses made of bamboo where up to 20 people can sleep with bedding provided by the company. Bedding can range from just a sleeping bag to mattresses, pillows, blankets, and mosquito nets.

Many companies take trekkers through the countryside, so if you want to experience the jungle, you need to let the tour company know what you prefer to see and do. Prices can be very inexpensive and groups vary in size. A typical tour is made up of four to eight people, and lasts four days. Some tours include cycling, kayaking, rafting, and rock climbing.

So if you’re in Laos and you want to try some jungle trekking and visit some hill tribes, give Luang Namtha a try!

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Dunhuang and the Thousand Buddhas

China is a popular tourist destination because it is a vast country filled with remarkable things to see and do. There is a variety of tours to China, and many of these are not expensive.

Tours often include visits to the Forbidden Palace and the Great Wall of China in Beijing; the Bund and the river in Shanghai; and the Army of the Terracotta Warriors in Xian in the Chinese province of Shaanxi.

While Shanghai is on the coast of the East China Sea and Beijing is not too far inland, the province of Shaanxi is much farther inland. But further west there are several more provinces including Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, and Xinjiang, the most northwestern province of China.

In the province of Gansu there is a city called Dunhuang, and there are several reasons to travel across China to visit this city.

Founded in 111 BC by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty, Dunhuang, which means “to flourish and prosper,” was located at the crossroads of two trading routes on the old Silk Road, the Northern and the Southern Silk Roads. It was aptly named because it was an important city in ancient China.

Today Dunhuang is not quite as important as it was. It is a small city that sits in a rich oasis in a desert area. Crescent Lake is nearby as is Mingsha Shan, or the “Singing Sand Mountain,” referring to the sounds that are made as the wind moves across the sand dunes.

Not far from Dunhuang is Yumenguan: this marked the westernmost point in ancient China. The ruins of an ancient Chinese watchtower can be seen here as well as some ruins of the Great Wall of China. If you’ve seen the Great Wall of China near Beijing, it can be an interesting experience to see the western end of this magnificent manmade structure in an entirely different setting.

But there is another very impressive sight closer to Dunhuang. The Magao Caves, or Magao Grottoes, are a series of caves filled with Buddhist art and manuscripts: UNESCO designated these caves as a World Heritage Site. These caves, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, are fantastic and are worth the effort of crossing China.

Buddhist monks had been traveling along the Silk Road for many years, but it wasn’t until about the 4th century that these caves were excavated. A monk had a vision of 1,000 Buddhas above the desert at Dunhuang and the project began.

There are 492 temples and they contain beautiful Buddhist artwork. Their purpose was to serve as a place for Buddhist worship and meditation. Only a handful of caves are open to the public, but these are enough for visitors to get a taste of the spectacular artwork.

Manuscripts were found in what is called the “Library Cave” in 1900. This cave had been walled up for nearly 1,000 years, so it was an important discovery. The manuscripts are now in Beijing, Berlin, London, and Paris.

The other things to check out during your visit to Dunhuang include the nearby sand dunes; the Huyang Forest with its rare poplar trees; the White Horse Pagoda, a large stupa built in 384 AD; and a camel trek across the desert.

There are many things to see and do in China. Don’t limit your tour to just the big cities in the east: check out some of the exciting places like Dunhuang in the west!

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Discovering Da Nang

Vietnam is a vibrant country filled with things to see and do. It entices tourists to sample its cities, beaches, cuisine, and culture. It is not an expensive country to visit, and many affordable tours are available to Vietnam.

People often visit the major cities of Vietnam like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. Along the coast there are many beaches and smaller cities of historical interest like Hue and Hoi An.

Da Nang is another city on the eastern coast of Vietnam, on the East Vietnam Sea which is a part of the South China Sea. Da Nang, like Hue and Hoi An, is located in central Vietnam, about half way between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It is the third largest city in Vietnam, and the largest city in Central Vietnam.

Unlike Hue and Hoi An, the appeal of Da Nang is not so much history and architecture, but more so its beaches and natural beauty. On the other hand, it is located in the center of the country, so many people use Da Nang as a base to enjoy the city and what it has to offer, and, at the same time, take side trips to nearby sights like Hue and Hoi An.

Da Nang was the capital city of the Hindu Champa Dynasty before the Vietnamese invaded the area in the 17th century. During the colonial period many French structures were built, and some of these remain. However, Da Nang was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War, so, because of all of the rebuilding and current development, Da Nang is mostly a new city with just a few touches here and there of its past history.

Da Nang has many beautiful and isolated beaches. At My Khe Beach, also known as China Beach, there are many guesthouses, restaurants, and shops, including marble statue shops. The local Vietnamese people in Da Nang are some of the friendliest people in Vietnam.

The Cham Museum in Da Nang was started by the French in 1915. Here you can see many stone sculptures dating back to the era of the Cham dynasty. Because this dynasty was Hindu, most of the sculptures are related to the Hindu religion: Shiva, garudas, nagas, and popular Hindu animals like elephants, lions, and monkeys.

The Marble Mountains are a popular tourist destination and are actually located within the city limits. The mountains have individual names: Hoa Son, or the Mountain of Fire; Kim Son, or the Mountain of Metal; Moc Son, or Mountain of Wood; Tho Son, or Mountain of Earth; and Thuy Son, or Mountain of Water.

For visitors looking for a little physical activity, walk up to the top of the mountain to see the Am Phu Cave. It’s a steep climb, but at the top you will be greeted by sacred images and a good view.

Another fun thing to do is to take the cable car from Suoi Mo station, not too far from Da Nang, up to the Ba Na Hill Station. This is a former French colonial resort that at one time had hundreds of villas, clubs, and restaurants. There are stunning views here over the mountains and down to the South China Sea. And the cable car ride is impressive: it holds two Guinness World Records as the longest and highest cable car ride.

During your tour of Vietnam, plan to stay for a few days or a week and explore Da Nang and the surrounding area. You won’t be disappointed!

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A Tour of Patan

Nepal is a former kingdom nestled in the Himalayans north of India and south of Tibet. It is a popular tourist destination and has been for many years because it offers so many exciting things to see and to do: ancient cities, beautiful countryside, amazing wildlife, and, of course, the highest mountain range in the world.

Nepal is not an expensive country to visit, and there are many affordable tours from which to choose. Most tours begin in Kathmandu and include other cities and sights in the Kathmandu Valley like Patan and Bhaktapur.

Patan is a historic city just across the Bagmati River from the larger city of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Patan is also known as Lalitpur, and this comes from the long Sanskrit word, “Lalitapattan.” To make it even more confusing it is also sometimes referred to as Manigal. It has a population of a little over 200,000 people as compared to the one million inhabitants of Kathmandu proper.

Like Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, Patan has a Durbar Square. A Durbar Square is a large open plaza in front of the old royal palaces. They are often full of intriguing temples, water fountains, and statues. In addition to architecture, Patan is known for its rich culture including its traditional arts and crafts, festivals, fine pieces of ancient art, stone carving, and delicious Nepalese cuisine.

As you enter Durbar Square from the south, the palace is on the right and there are many temples on the left. A fort stood on the site of the palace until 1734: the palace served as the home of the Malla rulers of the state of Patan. There are many courtyards which are called “chowks” in Nepalese. Not many of the courtyards are open because of the theft of artifacts; however you can often peep through the cracks in the doors and have a bit of a view.

The Patan Museum is housed in the palace, in the Keshab Narayan Chowk. This is a must see as it displays some of the wonderful arts and crafts for which Patan is so famous.

Outside of the palace in the square there is an amazing array of things to see. Some of these include a huge bell that dates back to 1737; the stone Krishna temple built in the shape of an octagonal in 1647; the Shankar Narayan temple with its kneeling stone elephants; the incredible stone temple of Krishna in front of which stands a statue of Garuda with crystal eyes; the Vishwanath temple with its elephants and riders; and so much more.

There are two other must see sights quite close to Durbar Square. The first is the Hiranayavama Makavikar Temple, more frequently referred to simply as the Golden Temple, and much easier to remember and to pronounce! Built in the early 15th century, it contains a large number of gold and silver covered decorations as well as some stunning bronze statues. This temple is definitely worth the short walk from Patan’s Durbar Square.

The second nearby sight is the Kumbheshwar Temple. It is one of only two five story pagoda temples in the Kathmandu Valley. You will see an empty sunken basin, but this is only filled for a special festival called the Kumbheshwar Mela Full Moon Festival.

While in Patan if you are interested in buying some of the things that make the city famous, look for Buddha statues, jewelry, and masks. Otherwise, just enjoy walking around Patan and being amazed at the art and architecture!

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Eating and Shopping for a Good Cause in Burma

There are new businesses and cafes’ opening up all the time in Burma as the country emerges from years of isolation. One of the latest trends is to use a new initiative to give something back to the community. Visitors on tours of Burma will most probably encounter at least one social enterprise or co-operative and they are worth visiting. Just to get you in the mood here are a few interesting places to visit in Burma that raise funds helping the local community through the business.

Located in the heart of Yangon, Linkage is a social project that combines art with food. You’ll see Burmese fine art on the walls and be able to sit down to a delicious meal. The project is run to raise funds for the local community and is a popular place to dine out at or buy a painting.

No. 141, Seik Kan Thar Street, Yangon, 11111

Yangon Bakehouse
The Yangon Bakehouse is a café with a difference. It serves the most delicious cakes, soups, and savouries and is very popular to those in the know. But there’s a difference. The café has a training kitchen and an apprenticeship scheme. Women from disadvantaged backgrounds are given placements to enable them to get work in future and profits are ploughed back into social projects. With a warm welcome this is just the place to enjoy a slice of cake and support a good cause at the same time.

Inya Training Café, 30 Inya, Kamayut Tsp

Shwe Sa Bwe
This hotel and restaurant in Yangon is another way of helping disadvantaged communities. The restaurant serves delicious French cuisine but what makes the place special is that you’ll be served by someone on a training place learning the tricks of the hospitality trade. All the young people working there come from disadvantaged communities and any profits go towards new initiatives for local communities. The food is scrumptious and there’s a friendly atmosphere.

Malikha Road 20, Yangon

Pomelo Yangon
Arts and crafts make superb souvenirs in Burma and one of the fun places to find unique items is Pomelo Yangon. Those people on cheap tours of Burma will find delightful items to take back home here and at very reasonable prices. You’ll find a colourful collection of items from buttons to toys made by local artisans. There are training places here too enabling people to learn new skills. Profits from Pomelo Yangon are ploughed back into local social projects to help disadvantaged communities in Burma.

89,Theinbyu Road, Yangon

New initiatives to bridge the divide with impoverished and disadvantaged communities are popping up all the time in Burma. It is a growing trend and adds to the innovative nature of some of the new developments. On your vacation to Burma do take the time to give something back by visiting a social enterprise project. You’ll be helping to develop someone’s career in a small way and be giving to a community project to help others.

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Visiting Vietnam - A Brief History

Vietnam is a fantastic tourist destination. There are many tours to Vietnam, each unique, and some quite affordable, as Vietnam is not an expensive place to visit.

There are many things to see and do in this vibrant country: cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon; incredible natural landscapes like Ha Long Bay; and beautiful beaches.

Most people know about its recent past, but Vietnam’s history goes back to prehistoric times. Evidence of humans living here goes back to 500,000 BC with the discovery of fossils in caves in the northern Vietnamese provinces of Lang Som and Nghe An.

During the Bronze Age, about 1,000 BC, the people in the area of what was to become Vietnam began cultivating rice and casting bronze. Some of the bronze drums from this period are elegant and elaborate. The culture developed in the floodplains of the Ma River and the Red River.

Early Vietnamese kingdoms began to reign about this time: the Hong Bang dynasty of the Hung kings was the first of several dynasties to rule the area. However, the Vietnamese were defeated by the Chinese and Vietnam remained a part of the Chinese Empire for about one thousand years.

There were several attempts to gain independence from China during those years, but they failed. It wasn’t until 938 AD that a Vietnamese warrior named Ngo Quyen defeated the Chinese army. A golden age of Vietnamese dynasties began. Although Mongols tried to invade three times, they were pushed back each time by the Vietnamese.

China briefly ruled Vietnamese again in the early 15th century, but the Vietnamese successfully fought against the Chinese and restored their own dynasty. This dynasty called the Le dynasty reached its peak during the 15th century. The Vietnamese increased their territory between the 11th and 18th centuries by taking over much of the neighboring Khmer Empire in present day Cambodia.

Interestingly, Vietnam was divided into two countries more than once. During the 16th and 17th centuries there were civil wars between various warlords: eventually the country was divided between the northern lords and the southern lords. Later the country was reunited and the famous Nguyen dynasty ruled over all of Vietnam.

In the middle of the 19th century the Vietnamese began to lose their independence when France began its military attacks. By the 1880s all of Vietnam was a part of French Indochina, a colony made up of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

During this period the French brought education and religion, namely Roman Catholicism, to Vietnam. The French based themselves in Saigon and created an economy based on coffee, indigo, tea, and tobacco plantations.

During World War II, the Japanese invaded and ruled Vietnam. It was at about this time, 1941, that Ho Chi Minh began his attempts to push both the Japanese and the French out of Vietnam. After Japan’s defeat, Ho Chi Minh’s forces fought against the French in the First Indochina War.

But it wasn’t until the Geneva Conference in 1954 that the French colony of Indochina ended and Vietnam was divided between Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi in North Vietnam, and the State of Vietnam later to become the Republic of Vietnam in the south. The United States eventually became involved in the conflict between the north and the south, and did not pull its forces out of Vietnam until 1975.

Since reunification, Vietnam has slowly emerged as an important country in Southeast Asia. And it has become a great place to visit, so start planning your tour today!

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Visiting Siem Reap

Cambodia is an interesting country to visit and there are many affordable tours from which to choose. Most visitors head to the number one tourist sight in the country: the incomparable Angkor Wat. This amazing temple complex is located in a town called Siem Reap.

Siem Reap is located just north of Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia, and also north of the capital city of Phnom Penh. Siem Reap has its own airport, so most visitors arrive by air.

The main reason for visiting Siem Reap is, of course, to see all the fantastic temples just outside of the town. But there are also some other interesting things to see and do during a visit to this town, so it’s worth staying for more than a night or two.

There are several temples in the city of Siem Reap. Most of these are modern but some are still worth a look. They include Wat Bo, Wat Damnak, Wat Kesraram, Wat Po Lanka, Wat Preah Enkosa, Wat Preah Enkosei, Wat Preah Prom Rath, and Wat Prohm Rath.

There are many arts and crafts that can be found in the markets in Siem Reap. Handicrafts include things like lacquered products, silk painting, and stone and wood carving. Some markets sell products from other countries like China, Thailand, and Vietnam; but only Cambodian products are sold in the Made in Cambodia Market.

The Angkor Silk Farm is located in the beautiful countryside, yet is quite close to the center of Siem Reap. Here visitors can learn how silk begins with the silk worm and becomes thread before being woven into stunning fabrics.

There is a big variety of cultural performances that visitors can enjoy in Siem Reap. These include the Smile of Angkor that recreates the great Angkor civilization; music and shadow puppet shows at the Performances by Cambodian Living Arts; and the most popular, Phare, The Cambodian Circus.

There are also several festivals that can be fun to experience. There is a big water festival in October on the banks of Tonle Sap Lake; a photography festival; and an annual street puppet festival.

One thing that can be done as a half-day trip is a visit to Tonle Sap. There are many houseboats that form floating villages along the way to the fish farm that sits at a distance from the edge of the lake. At the floating fish farm you can enjoy some freshly caught fish for lunch. For people who enjoy fishing, there are also fishing trips on the lake. Another popular and more authentic floating village is called Kampong Phluk Floating Village.

There are several hills in the area that can be fun to visit. Phnom Bok is the highest hill and there are temple ruins here. Phnom Krom is another hill with temple ruins at the top. This hill is near the floating village of Chong Kneas and is popular because of its sunset views over the rice fields.

After a long day of walking around Siem Reap what better way to relax than to try a Cambodian massage. There are several nice spas that offer Khmer style massage and other spa treatments all at very affordable prices.

There are many other things to do in Siem Reap like miniature golf, ziplining, and motorbike tours. So spend some extra time in Siem Reap and have some fun!

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Posted by: WS
The People of Nepal

Nepal has been a popular place to visit for many years. It is a fascinating country and not expensive to visit. There are plenty of tours from which to choose, and some of these can be quite affordable.

Most people start off their tour of Nepal with a visit to the historic cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Those interested in wildlife will want to try Chitwin Royal National Park or the Bardia Royal National Park. And for people interested in trekking, the Himalayan Mountain Range awaits!

What are the people of Nepal like? There are nearly 30 million people who live in Nepal and there are over 100 different castes and ethnic groups. About 80% of the population are Hindu, while the remainder are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and a few other religions.

Because the majority of Nepalese are Hindu, they are divided into castes. The largest group of people in Nepal belong to the Chhetri Hindu caste: this caste is made up of the rulers and warriors. The second largest group of people in Nepal belong to the Brahman Hindu caste: this caste consists of teachers and priests.

There are also a large number of indigenous people. The Magars are believed to be the oldest Nepalese ethnic group. Their origins are in the Mongoloid and East Asian peoples and they migrated from the Sikkim area in India via Tibet to Nepal. The Magars speak several different Magar languages. There are also many Magars living in Bhutan, India, and Myanmar, or Burma.

Another interesting ethnic group indigenous to Nepal are the Tharu people. They live in the Terai area of Nepal. This is an area that consists of grasslands and forests at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. They consider themselves to be people of the forest: here they collect wild fruits and vegetables. But they also plant corn, lentils, mustard, and rice.

The Tamang are an indigenous ethnic group of Nepalese who live in the Himalayan areas. Their origins are in Tibet and they have their own culture, language and religion. Because of foreign invasions over the years, many Tamang people have moved to other places in Asia including Bhutan, India, and Myanmar, or Burma.

The Newar people are one of the most interesting of the various indigenous people of Nepal. This is because they are the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. This means that they are responsible for much of what we see of Nepalese culture today. Some people consider the Newars as a nation.

The former Newar kingdom of Nepal Mandala was spread out over the Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding areas. Newar people have lived in this area since prehistoric times. Over the centuries when other people moved into the Kathmandu Valley, they adopted the traditions and language of the Newar people.

Newar people follow either the Hindu religion or the Buddhist religion. They are well-known for their art, architecture, cuisine, literature, music, and sculpture. Many of the structures you will see during your visit to Nepal will be examples of Newar architecture like the Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur and the Swayambhunath stupa in Kathmandu.

When you visit Nepal, especially when you are in the Kathmandu Valley, be on the lookout for evidences of these various ethnic groups like the Newars. They even have their own cuisine, so you might want to give that a try!

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Playing in Pattaya

Of all the places to visit in Southeast Asia, Thailand is probably the most popular. Thailand is not an expensive tourist destination, and there are many affordable tours to this “Land of Smiles.” People associate Thailand with beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, friendly smiles, and interesting cities like bustling Bangkok and historic Chiang Mai.

About two hours southeast of Bangkok on the eastern seaboard is another interesting city. Pattaya is a seaside resort city that has a well-earned reputation for its nightlife, but there’s far more to this city and its surrounding areas than just bars and nightclubs. There are luxury accommodations, restaurants serving simple Thai dishes or Western food, lots of shopping, and the beach.

Pattaya Beach is a narrow beach that stretches for quite a long distance along the Gulf of Thailand. There are vendors here with chairs and umbrellas, and food and beverages can be ordered while you’re relaxing and watching the sea. From this beach you can engage the services of a speedboat to take you for a parachute ride over the beach.

Nearby Jomtien Beach is also a popular place to relax. It is similar to Pattaya Beach with all the chairs and umbrellas, but it is a wider beach. There are more trees here and life seems a bit more relaxed. Again there are plenty of restaurants and accommodations here. Between Pattaya and Jomtien is Buddha Hill. Here, in addition to a giant statue of Buddha, there is an excellent panoramic view of Pattaya and its beach.

From a pier called the Bali Hai Pier, also known as Pattaya Pier or South Pier, you can take a boat trip to one of the many offshore islands. The most popular island is also the largest. It is called Ko Larn and there are several ways to visit it. There is a public ferry from the pier that takes passengers to one side of the island or the other. Here there are lots of restaurants and several beaches and many people rent mopeds for the day to explore.

There are several other islands that are popular. Ko Khrok has a sandy beach and coral reefs and is not far from Ko Larn. Ko Phai, or Bamboo Island, is a popular island for scuba divers, although there are other reasons to visit this island like fishing, snorkeling, swimming, or just relaxing.

Further away there are two other islands that are popular with locals and tourists alike. Ko Samet is known for its white sandy beaches and bungalows while Ko Chang is known less for its beaches and more for its natural beauty including things like caves.

When you need a break from the beach, there is an interesting place to visit not far from Pattaya and Jomtien. It is on the major road called Sukhumvit Road that connects Bangkok to Pattaya and places further south including Sattahip, the home of the Royal Thai Navy.

It’s called Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden and it is divided into the following sections: Ant Tower, Butterfly Hill, Cactus and Succulent Garden, European Garden, Flower Valley, French Garden, Stonehenge Garden, and Variegated Plants Garden.

There’s more to see at Nong Nooch than just the plants. There is a small zoo and there are performances like martial arts demonstrations, elephant shows, and religious ceremonies.

If you visit Thailand and want to see some interesting things on the eastern seaboard, head down to Pattaya!

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Peaceful Pakse

Laos is an interesting yet quiet country to visit. Many tourists are discovering the beauty of Laos and its people and culture. Laos is not an expensive country to visit, so there are many affordable tours from which to choose.

Most people visit the cities of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and Luang Prabang, the former capital. Another small town that many people enjoy seeing is Van Vieng and all of its outdoor activities.

Pakse, also sometimes spelled Pakxe, is another city in Laos that is worth visiting. Whereas Vientiane is approximately in the center of the country and Luang Prabang is in the north, Pakse is in the south of the country.

Pakse is the capital of the southern province of Champasak. At one time it served as the capital of the kingdom of Champasak until the country was unified as the Kingdom of Laos in 1946. Pakse is the most populous city in this province, and the third most populous city in the country.

Pakse sits at the place where the Mekong River and the Sedone River meet. It has a year-round warm tropical climate and a very laid-back atmosphere. There are many riverside bars and restaurants, and places to get a relaxing massage. There is a bridge over the Mekong which allows traffic between Pakse and Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand.

The other reason that people visit Pakse is because it serves as a sort of “base camp” for visits to some interesting natural sights in the area. These include the Bolaven Plateau, Lao Ngam, Si Phan Don, Tad Lo, and the Xe Pian National Protected Area.

In the city itself there are some things to see. Wat Luang is the largest and most beautiful temple in the city, while Wat Phabad is the oldest. There is a “Big Buddha” complex that is located across the river, and from here there is a good view of Pakse.

There are several markets to visit. One is the Morning Market which actually lasts most of the day. Another market is the huge Talat Dao Heung, or New Market, which is located just outside of the city.

The Bolaven Plateau is a beautiful area of Laos and it is easy to get to from Pakse. Here there are coffee fields; the Thateng Integrated Organic Farm where you can enjoy coffee as well as tea, fresh juice, or a meal; and lots of waterfalls like Yuang Falls, probably one of the best waterfalls in Laos.

Another popular place to visit from Pakse is Si Phan Don. This means “The 4,000 Islands” in the Laotian language. Most archipelagos are located in oceans and seas, but this is an archipelago of islands in the Mekong River. Many of the islands are underwater for part of the year when the Mekong River becomes flooded during the rainy season.

The biggest islands are Don Det, Don Khon, and Don Khong. You can see some of the highly endangered freshwater Irrawady dolphins by boat not far from Don Khon. The river rapids called Khone Phapeng Falls are impassable, so you can see the remains of the first railway built in Laos by the French to bypass the rapids.

Agriculture is the main source of income for the people who live in this area, but tourism is becoming popular because people want to see the idyllic side of Laos. If this is what you are looking for, give Pakse a try!

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Posted by: WS
Lake Batur

One of the reasons that Bali is such a popular tourist destination is because it offers so much natural beauty. Visitors enjoy the beaches, the mountains and valleys, and especially the bright green terraced rice paddies.

Many people arrive in Bali and stay in Kuta because of its beach and nightlife. Others move on to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. There are many other things to see and do on this special island, and Lake Batur is one of these. The Balinese know it as Danau Batur.

Lake Batur is a caldera lake, similar to a crater lake, at the foot of Mount Batur which is an active volcano. This area is located in the northeast part of the island not far from Mount Agung, the highest mountain on Bali. The lake and the crater rim above it are both at high elevations, so the air temperature here is much cooler than down at sea level.

Many tourists stop at the rim of the crater for a view down over the lake. Most stop first at nearby Pura Ulun Danau Batur, the second most important temple in Bali after Pura Besakih, the “mother temple” situated on Mount Agung.

There are nine different temples within the Pura Ulun Danau Batur complex. The main temple has five courtyards and here there is an 11-tiered structure that is popular with tourists because it makes for a great photograph.

After visiting the temple complex, many visitors stop for lunch at one of the local restaurants that sit on the rim of the crater or nearby. On a clear day having a meal while sitting at a window that looks straight down towards the lake can be a very special experience.

Not many tourists venture down the long winding road to the lake itself, but it is definitely worth the extra effort. There are quiet and simple accommodations and several places to find something to eat.

One of the most popular things to do is to hike up the slope of Mount Batur. Tours leave in the wee hours of the morning so that trekkers can enjoy the wonderful sunrise and fantastic views down over the lake. Mount Batur is still active, so there are steam vents here and there near the top.

Another thing that some people do is to visit the village of Trunyan on the eastern shore of the lake. This village is special because it is one of only two Bali Aga villages, the other one being a village called Tenganan. Bali Aga refers to the original inhabitants of Bali before the Hindu-Javanese arrived. They speak a dialect of Balinese that is unique and dates back thousands of years.

While Tenganan is known for its arts and crafts, Trunyan has another claim to fame. The villagers can seem not very welcoming to tourists, but they do like the income. The custom of this village is to openly bury their dead above ground. For a fee, a local will act as tour guide for those interested in seeing this unusual custom.

Other than that, Trunyan offers great of views of Mount Batur to the west. The ride around the lake is interesting because many people who live in the handful of villages maintain beautiful fields of bright green agricultural crops: these fields run right down to the edge of the lake.

If you want a break from the hot sun along the coast of Bali, take a trip to Lake Batur: you’ll see some very beautiful scenery and get cooled off at the same time!

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Chinese Cuisine

China is an exciting tourist destination and there are many affordable tours to this huge and interesting country. But you might ask yourself: what will the food be like? Will it be like the Chinese take-away place down the street?

Take a tour to China and find out!

Chinese cuisine can be divided into eight categories: Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan, and Zhejiang cuisines. And most Chinese dishes consist of rice, noodles, vegetables, and sauces.

Depending on what part of China you visit, you might have a chance to taste some of these eight different cuisines.

Anhui cuisine comes from the Huangshan Mountains area in eastern China. It is known for its simple styles of cooking, like braising and stewing, and its use of wild herbs. Some well-known Anhui dishes include Bagongshan Stinky Tofu, Egg Dumplings, Luzhou Roast Duck, and Wushan Imperial Goose.

Cantonese is probably the most familiar Chinese cuisine: when a Westerner thinks of Chinese food, it’s usually Cantonese style. It comes from the Guangdong Province in southeast China, and the reason it is so popular outside of China is because of the large number of emigrants from this area of China.

Cantonese dishes are prepared by braising, deep frying, double steaming, shallow frying, and stir frying. Dishes include almost all kinds of edible meats, but rarely use lamb or goat. Not many herbs or spices are used.

Fujian cuisine comes from the Fujian Province just north of the Guangdong Province. These dishes are light and ingredients are soft and tender. Like Cantonese dishes, Fujian dishes are prepared without many spices or herbs that mask the original flavors of the ingredients. These dishes often contain seafood, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms.

The Hunan Province is inland, just northwest of the Guangdong Province. Hunan cuisine is also known as Xiang cuisine and is known for its deep colors and hot spicy flavors due to the use of chili peppers and garlic. Dishes are prepared by braising, frying, pot-roasting, and stewing. Typical dishes include cured ham with cowpeas, dry-wok chicken, Mao’s braised pork, and pearly meatballs.

Jiangsu cuisine comes from the Jiangsu Province on the central-eastern coast of China. Jiangsu dishes contain soft ingredients and often use soup to help add to the flavor. They can sometimes be sweeter than dishes from other Chinese cuisines. Some Jiangsu dishes are braised spare ribs, fried gluten balls, Ji-yu soup, and whitebait omelette.

Shandong is another coastal province and lies north of Jiangsu Province. Many Shandong dishes contain seafood with light tastes or soup. Some of the other ingredients in Shandong dishes include corn; grains like barley, millet, oat, and wheat; peanuts; and lots of vegetables.

Szechwan cuisine comes from the Sichuan Province in southwestern China. Like the Hunan cuisine, Szechwan cuisine is hot and spicy and uses lots of chili peppers and garlic as well as Sichuan pepper. Dishes are prepared by braising, steaming, or stir frying. Pork and beef are the two main meats used. Some dishes are Sichuan hotpot, Kung Pao chicken, Mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, and tea-smoked duck.

Zhejiang Province is a coastal province just south of Shanghai. Zhejiang cuisine is known for having a fresh and soft flavor and for not being greasy. Some ingredients include bamboo shoots, freshwater fish, poultry, and seafood. Dishes include Beggar’s chicken, Dongpo pork, and West Lake fish in vinegar.

Bring along your appetite for your tour of China: there are lots of dishes to try!

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Burma’s New Vintage Railway Ride

Riding on a Burmese train is quite an experience with some railways heading through stunningly beautiful countryside. Many people on tours of Burma will be familiar with trains heading to Kalaw but there is a new experience in Burma destined to be popular with visitors to the country. Thanks to some detailed restoration work it is now possible to ride in a vintage train from Bagan to Mount Popa.

The train used for this new journey was first constructed in England in 1947. It continued to be used in Burma from the 1950’s to 2005. The service has been lovingly restored and now runs at a very sedate 10 miles an hour from Bagan to Kyauk Padaung near Mount Popa. This gives those visitors on cheap tours of Burma enough time to take in the idyllic rural scenes that sweep by on the journey. It is not uncommon for farm workers to wave to passing tourists- so close to them is the track. The 3,000 gallons of water needed to power a return journey takes 3-4 hours to boil. This train can carry 120 passengers at a time and has three carriages. Railway travel is increasing in popularity in Burma and in particular these iconic trains are a favourite with overseas visitors.

The route is a real experience with farm scenes, lush palm trees, and daily life all viewed from the windows. Seats are two apart and there is always something happening. Stopping at small places on the way is a great experience as visitors get to see street traders selling food through the windows and craftsmen at work. Even the local blacksmith gets visitors to see how he goes about his work. The train journey from one popular place in Burma to the holy mountain of Mount Popa is an excellent way to spend a day in this region. Visitors will also see people selling green tea and jaggery.

However there is one problem. The train ride has been restored with tourists in mind with the journey costing almost $200. For the railway enthusiast this experience will probably still appeal but for those on a backpacker tour of Burma the cheaper way to get around would be by taxi. Whatever the price, visitors now have an alternative way of seeing Bagan and the surrounding countryside and it is an excellent way of having a fairly temple free day- apart from the shrines at Mount Popa. There is also the maintenance of such a railway and added costs that need to be built into the cost of the service. For the time, though, being able to experience these old classic trains on slow journeys is a big attraction as is taking time to see everyday life on the route. This is one of those experiences that should be done on a tour of Burma because once a high speed railroad network begins to be constructed here these treasures and iconic attractions will be gone forever as a sign of progress.

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Ubud - Bali’s Bustling Cultural Center

No tour of the enchanted island of Bali is complete without a visit to Ubud. Most tourists fly into the airport located near Kuta Beach and stay there, never experiencing anything of the “real” Bali experience other than the beach scene.

That’s okay for some people, but other people want to know and understand a bit more about the country they are visiting. Ubud is perfect for this. It is considered the cultural center of Bali and it’s only an hour north of Kuta.

What makes Ubud the cultural center of this island? Art, art, and more art! There are many artists’ workshops and galleries in Ubud. It is also an excellent place to browse shops for the handicrafts that make Bali famous.

What will you find? Art, jewelry, carved wood sculptures, gold and silver handicrafts, sarongs, batik fabrics and clothing, and stone carvings, just to name a few. A word to the wise: negotiate! Sellers are known to ask 10 times the going rate, so don’t be afraid to bargain.

Ubud appears to be a single bustling town, but, in fact, it is made up of 14 villages. And, although it’s rapidly growing, the center of the town is still surrounded with terraced rice fields and rivers like the Ayung and the Wos Rivers. The spirit and relaxed atmosphere is as much a part of what Ubud is as its renowned arts and crafts.

In addition to artwork and handicrafts, many visitors enjoy the experience of a shadow puppet performance or dance performance both of which are accompanied by live gamelan orchestras. There are about 65 different performances every week, so chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to witness one of these uniquely Balinese experiences.

Ubud is more than art: there are lots of things to see and do in and around the town. After getting your fill of art, you’ll probably want to make your way to the Monkey Forest.

It’s considered a sacred forest, and there is a path that leads towards a temple called the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal. The walk through the forest is pleasant and the monkeys are interesting, but stay alert: they can be aggressive especially if they sense you’re carrying any food items with you!

There are many other temples and historical sites in and around Ubud. In the northern part of Ubud, you’ll find the Pura Puseh Batuan Temple. This is an 11th century temple decorated with elaborate stone carvings. Like most architecture in Bali, you’ll clearly see the influence of the Hindu religion.

Also in Ubud is the Puri Saren Agung, also known as the Royal Palace and the Water Palace. This was the royal residence of the kings of Ubud until about 60 years ago, and some of their descendants still live here (these parts are off limits to visitors, but the rest of the palace is open to the public).

If you’re looking for some fun activities, there are lots of choices. There are several bicycling options; walking tours; white water rafting; and canyoning. If you’re looking for relaxation, there are tons of spas and other treatment establishments all geared towards natural healing techniques.

Ubud should not be missed! Spend at least a couple of days here if not a week. Stay in the center of town and then just walk around leisurely exploring this fascinating Balinese town.

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Phnom Penh - Paris of the East

Cambodia is an interesting country in Southeast Asia full of history, some of it positive and some of it sad and tragic.

Many people limit their Cambodian experience to a visit to Angkor Wat: not a bad idea, actually, but Cambodia offers so much more than just a quick day tour of the temples.

If a tourist decides to visit a second place in Cambodia, it is usually Phnom Penh, the capital and, with a population of about 1.5 million people, the largest city in the country. Whereas Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat, lies in the northwest region of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is located in the south central area of the country where the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap River meet.

The difficult period of Cambodia’s history when the Khmer Rouge ruled the country left its mark on this once beautiful capital city. It’s still a bit “rough around the edges” but it is slowly coming back to life with a few high rise buildings and a few traffic lights. And, fortunately, there are hints here and there of the beautiful French colonial buildings that gave Phnom Penh its nickname of the “Paris of the East.”

One of the most popular tourist areas in the city is along the river. Sisowath Quay, also known as the Riverside, is a long park-like area landscaped with lawns and palm trees, and dotted with lots of cafes, bars, shops, and restaurants. It’s a pleasant place to take a walk or to sit and enjoy a meal or a drink while watching the river and doing some people watching.

The Royal Palace is an interesting place to visit during your stay in Phnom Penh. On the palace grounds, in addition to palace buildings, there are two stunning pagodas that are must sees: the first is called the Silver Pagoda and the second is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

They were built in the 19th century during the colonial period with help from the French, but clearly with Cambodian designs. And, fortunately, despite all of the madness of the events of the 20th century, the palace complex has survived quite well. Try to plan your visit early in the day before the temperature gets too high.

There are several wats, or temples, that are of interest to visitors. Wat Phnom, or “Hill Temple,” sits on a hill close to Sisowath Quay so it’s easy to find. The structure is not terribly impressive,but it is historically important, and it’s a good place to meet locals as they often gather here. There are also a few monkeys frolicking in this pleasant green space. Wat Botum, a little further away, was favored by the royal family.

For visitors interested in learning about the Khmer Rouge period, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was a school that was converted into an infamous prison. About 40 minutes south of the city is the “Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.” This was a mass grave for thousands of people killed by the Khmer Rouge.

If this is not your cup of tea, there are lots of other things to do. There are bicycle tours, cooking classes, wildlife tours, and even a casino. Cruises on the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers are popular. The tours start from Sisowath Quay, run along the riverside, and typically visit floating fishing villages.

Although not the showy “Paris of the East” that it once was, Phnom Penh is still a very interesting place to visit. Add it to your bucket list to check out during your visit to Southeast Asia!

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Laid-back in Luang Prabang

If a whole town has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, then you know it has to be worth the effort to get there. And that is surely the case with Luang Prabang.

Laos is a very laid-back country as a whole, and the atmosphere in Luang Prabang mirrors that attitude. It is the former capital of Laos and has become a popular tourist destination.

Vientiane is the capital of Laos and its largest city. It is also popular and easy to get to, especially by road, crossing over the Friendship Bridge from Thailand. But Luang Prabang has become popular for several reasons.

One of these is its beautiful setting: imagine a quiet town full of traditional wooden houses, a town nearly surrounded by two rivers that meet, and a temple looking down from a hill. Sounds like paradise!

Throw in some colonial architecture left from the days of the French “Indochine” days, exotic Buddhist temples, mountains, and green, lots of green, and there you have it: Luang Prabang, one of the cleanest and most charming cities in Southeast Asia.

Luang Prabang was the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom starting around 1350 AD. Lan Xang translates as “a million elephants.” The name of the city comes from “Pha Bang,” a sacred image of Buddha that is highly revered and currently located in the Royal Palace Museum.

When the Chinese sacked the city in the late 19th century, Laos looked to France for help: hence the years of French colonial rule and the hints here and there of colonial architecture among the traditional Lao buildings.

Sometimes poverty is not such a bad thing. When the French withdrew at the end of the colonial period, and after the 1975 revolution in Laos, the monarchy in Luang Prabang ended. Laos was, and still remains, a poor country, so Luang Prabang was spared the uglier side of modern city planning.

It stayed a pretty and quiet provincial town, and this is what makes it so appealing to many visitors. When the country was opened to tourism in 1989, colonial and traditional Laotian houses were restored and now they not only serve as accommodations but add to the beauty and charm of Luang Prabang.

This beauty and charm is so easy to discover: just meander around and you will see interesting and lovely sights.

One of the best places to start is the top of the hill. It’s known as Phou Si or Chomsy Hill. Sunrise and sunset are popular times to climb the not very steep hill to be rewarded with a panoramic view of Luang Prabang.

Another place to enjoy the sunset is along the Mekong River. Either take a walk along the waterfront or sit down and enjoy a drink or dinner at one of the many restaurants and soak in the atmosphere.

Some things to see in Luang Prabang include the Vat Xieng Toung. This is a beautiful monastery and also the oldest. The Vipassana Temple and Park is the home of a golden temple that is easily seen from the top of the Phou Si or Chomsy Hill. Haw Kham is the former royal palace. Today it is a national museum with occasional dance or drama performances.

Not far from Luang Prabang are several other things to see and do: the Pak Ou Caves, several waterfalls, elephant sanctuaries, bear rescue centers, and a butterfly park.

Laid-back Luang Prabang: paradise. Don’t miss it!

Check out Hanoi: it’s not only a historic city, but it’s also a friendly city!

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Historic Hanoi

Vietnam is growing as a tourist destination: it offers so much variety in its landscapes, its cities, its culture, and its sights.

Hanoi is the capital and second largest city in Vietnam. It is a popular tourist destination because it is a city that combines aspects of the East and the West. Hanoi is an affordable place to stay and visit with lots to see and do, many choices for accommodations, and tons of great food!

Hoan Kiem Lake is a park and lake in the center of Hanoi. It’s a pleasant area and popular with the local people. It’s near the “Old Quarter” of Hanoi with its many examples of pre-colonial and French colonial architecture.

Local people use this park as a place to practice tai chi in the morning and to sit on benches and do some serious people-watching during the rest of the day. There is a legend about a giant turtle, so there is a picturesque “Tortoise Tower” on the lake.

There is also a temple that extends out onto the lake. It’s called Ngoc Son Temple and is very popular with tourists. Other temples in Hanoi include Bach Ma Temple, Hani Temple, and the Temple of Literature.

Along the lake there is a cafe that offers French coffee and sweets: this is a wonderful way to relax along the lake and enjoy the view and the food.

Very close to the lake is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. This is something every tourist should experience. Folk legends from Vietnamese history are told with wooden characters, men, women, even dragons. These stories are accompanied by live musicians playing Vietnamese instruments, and the people manipulating the puppets are standing in water because all the action takes place on the surface of the water held in a pool at the front of the theater. It is like nothing else and is a must see.

Not far from the theater and the lake is the venerable old Metropole Hotel. It was built in 1901 in the French colonial style and retains is historic ambience. Its guests have included notables like Charlie Chaplin and writers like Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham. Stop in for a snack or drink as you wander around Hanoi.

A bit further on you’ll come to another historic building from the same era and built in the same style: the Hanoi Opera House. Its design was based on the Palais Garnier in Paris and is one of the notable architectural landmarks in Hanoi.

There are many museums in Hanoi including the Army Museum, the Fine Arts Museum, the Ho Ch Minh Mausoleum, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Museum of Ethnology, the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution, the National Museum of Vietnamese History, and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

Don’t miss the “One-Pillar Pagoda” that sits between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Museum. It rises up from the center of a small pond.

One thing that visitors notice and remark on is how friendly the local people from Hanoi can be. It is not unusual for a local to strike up a conversation with a visitor: it is a cultural norm in Hanoi. It can be a bit of a shock at first, but once you get used to it you might find that it comes in handy, especially if you need some help with directions!

Check out Hanoi: it’s not only a historic city, but it’s also a friendly city!

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Posted by: WS
Chiang Mai - The Real Thailand

There is a saying that if you don’t visit Chiang Mai, you haven’t seen the “real” Thailand. What this means is that some tourists only visit Bangkok and Bangkok is not Thailand: Bangkok is Bangkok, a huge metropolis, and, although it’s an extremely interesting place to visit, it hardly gives a tourist an accurate idea of what Thailand is all about.

Chiang Mai, on the other hand, is smaller and visitors can get a better idea here of what Thai culture is all about. Nicknamed the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is about an hour from Bangkok by air. It is surrounded by mountains and green countryside and is full of temples, history, and great food!

Chiang Mai was established in 1296 AD and was the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom. It retained its charm because until the 1920s the only way to get there from Bangkok was by river or on the back of an elephant, not an easy journey.

The old part of the city is surrounded by a moat. It is also a walled city, but only some sections of the wall remain, like the gates and the corners. In the old part of old Chiang Mai there are some 30 temples that date back to the founding of the city. Some of these temples are stunning, with their wood carvings, and the combinations of styles in which they were built: Burmese, Lanna Thai, and Sri Lankan.

The most popular temples within the old city walls include Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Man, Wat Jet Yod, Wat Phra Singh, Waht Phrachao Mengrai, Wat Suan Dok, and Wat Umong.

There are things other than temples in Chiang Mai. There are museums, gardens, and the Chiang Mai Zoo and Aquarium. But some of the most popular things to see and do are just outside of Chiang Mai.

At the top of Doi Suthep, or Mount Suthep, is a temple called Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Even if you have had your fill of temples, check this one out. There is a spectacular view of Chiang Mai from this temple built in 1383. The temple itself is quite beautiful with lots of carvings and lots of colors.

Not far from this temple is one of the many palaces owned by the royal family: Thailand is a kingdom, after all. Bhuping Royal Palace sits high on the top of a mountain among shade trees and a beautiful rose garden. The palace itself is not particularly interesting but the cool forested setting is.

A bit further from Bhuping tourists can visit hill tribe villages. Here you can see how the hill tribes live; buy some of their handicrafts; taste their food; and check out a garden where they grow opium poppies!

But a visit to Chiang Mai is not complete unless you visit one of the elephant camps. Here you can watch the elephants get scrubbed in a stream by their mahouts; feed them bananas; watch a very entertaining show where the elephants play soccer, demonstrate how they carry logs, and even paint a picture on a canvas. They are quite amazing!

After the show take a ride on one of the elephants. You sit on a seat on top of the elephant’s back while the mahout sits just behind the elephant’s neck. Hold on tight! It’s a bumpy ride up and down through the forested hills.

Don’t skip Chiang Mai: it’s unforgettable!

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Back to Bhaktapur

Nepal is an amazing country full of interesting things to see and do. Kathmandu is the capital and largest city and is located in Kathmandu Valley. This is worth mentioning as the entire valley has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are seven groups of buildings and monuments that make up this designation, and Bhaktapur is one of these seven.

Bhaktapur is located about eight miles southeast of Kathmandu. It’s a great place to visit and a smart choice for a place to stay because it is smaller and quieter than Kathmandu; it’s easy to make a day trip or two into Kathmandu to see its sights; and there are things of interest around Bhaktapur.

Bhaktapur is an ancient Newar city. The Newars are the indigenous people of Nepal: their language is quite different from the Nepalese language, and the Newars are also responsible for creating Nepal’s historic civilization.

At one point in history there were three Newar kingdoms in the Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur which was the largest and, until the second half of the 15th century, it was the capital of Nepal. Today it is the third largest city in the valley, and Newar people make up the majority of its inhabitants.

A Durbar Square refers to the open plaza or courtyard opposite old royal palaces in Nepal. The squares often contain statues, temples, open areas, and water fountains. Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur all have their own Durbar Square. Of the three, Bhaktapur’s is the best preserved and untouched, as is its city center and its other palace courtyards.

Bhaktapur is also known for its temples, artworks made of metal, stone, and wood, and its rich culture. It is famous for its pottery, weaving, art and architecture including amazing windows, and beautiful ponds. There are many other aspects of Newar culture in Bhaktapur, so don’t be surprised to come around a corner and find yourself in the middle of a local festival complete with live music and colorful costumes.

There are many things to see in Bhaktapur so start with its Durbar Square. Here you’ll see Hindu temples and pagodas; the Lion Gate guarded on each side by huge lion statues; the Palace of Fifty-five Windows; the statue of King Bhupatindra Malla; the Batsala Temple with its famous bronze bell; the Pashupati Temple with its erotic carvings; and the Picture Gallery.

And don’t miss the Lu Dhawka, or Golden Gate. This is the entrance to the palace and is considered by some to be the most beautifully decorated gate in the world. It is highly ornamented with carvings of Hindu deities like Kali and Garuda as well as monsters and other Hindu mythical creatures.

Another popular sight not far from Durbar Square is the Nyatapola Temple. This is a temple built in the style of a pagoda with five stories. It’s one of the tallest in Kathmandu Valley and is known for its fine workmanship. Other temples include Bhairab Nath, Dattatraya, and Changu Narayan, several miles north of Bhakthapur. Changu Narayan is an ancient Hindu temple, one of the oldest in the valley, and is definitely worth a visit.

There are so many things to see and do in Bhaktapur. Wandering around the city is an experience in itself. Just walk around and explore and your experience will be so memorable that you’ll want to someday go back to Bhaktapur!

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Gulmarg - Snow Skiing in India?

When potential visitors think of India, they think about famous places like the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort in Old Delhi, the colorful saris, the tasty food, and so much more. But snow skiing in India?

India is a popular place to visit for a huge variety of reasons, and there are many affordable tours to this fascinating and vibrant country.

Most tours begin and end in Delhi, the capital of India. Tours include sights in Old Delhi and New Delhi and then continue on the circuit called the “Golden Triangle.” The two other cities on this circuit are Jaipur, the “Pink City” in Rajasthan towards the west; and Agra, home of the world famous Taj Mahal.

There are so many other things to see and do in India, and there are things that appeal to just about everyone: a camel safari in the desert, a sunny sandy beach, historic buildings and monuments, wildlife, and the list goes on and on.

But is India a country that comes to mind for people who love to go snow skiing?

In the Indian state called Jammu and Kashmir in the northernmost area of the country there is a town, or hill station, in the Himalayas called Gulmarg. It was originally called Guidmarg, or “the fair one,” by the local shepherds to honor a Hindu goddess.

It was renamed Gulmarg, or “the meadow of flowers” by a 16th century sultan. This is because there are over 20 kinds of wildflowers that grow here, and one of the Mughal emperors, Jahangir, came here to collect flowers for his gardens.

During the British Raj, people started to go to Gulmarg to escape the summer heat of the North India plains. Eventually three golf courses were established in Gulmarg and the British also started a ski club here in the early 20th century.

Gulmarg is located close to the border with Pakistan: despite the border conflicts over the years between India and Pakistan, today it is a popular ski resort especially for skiers from Asian countries. Gulmarg is home to one of the world’s longest and highest gondolas. It is located not far from the main hotels in town.

The ski season in Gulmarg begins in December and continues until April. There is deep fresh powder every winter in Gulmarg. Many people come here to ski or snowboard, but some people come just to enjoy a ride on the incredible gondola!

Beginners can learn how to ski or snowboard at an area near the hotels on the hills of the Gulmarg Golf Course. More advanced skiers head up the gondola for high mountain skiing. There are only certain areas where skiing is allowed: venturing beyond these areas is not safe, as there is the danger of avalanches. Heli-skiing is also available at Gulmarg. Ski and snowboard rentals are available in town as are guides.

Gulmarg is very popular during the winter skiing season, but visitors also come here in the summertime to enjoy the cool weather. During the summer people enjoy trekking, mountain biking, golfing, and horseback riding. There are also several sights that are worth checking out including Alpather Lake, the Baba Reshi Shrine and Maharani Temple, and, of course, a ride on the gondola.

Whether you are a winter sports enthusiast or not, add Gulmarg to your list of destinations during your tour of dynamic India!

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Aurangabag - The Ajanta and the Ellora Caves

India is a huge country and a great tourist destination because it is not expensive and there are so many things to see and do. There are many kinds of tours to India, and quite a few of these are very affordable.

Most visitors arrive in Delhi and this is where their tour begins. The Golden Triangle is a tourist circuit that begins with sights in Old and New Delhi; continues on to Agra with its world renowned Taj Mahal; and finishes in Jaipur, the “Pink City” in Rajasthan.

This kind of tour gives you a very good idea of the sights and the culture of this special country. But some people want to see a bit more and are willing to travel to other parts of India to see and do some very special things.

Western India is made up of several states and territories including Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, home of Mumbai, and Rajasthan, the popular tourist area and home to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Udaipur.

Aurangabad is a city in the state of Maharashtra in western India. It is an important tourist destination because of its two famous caves, the Ajanta Caves and the Ellora Caves. The city was founded by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1610 and, although it is rapidly growing, it still retains its culture and traditions.

The Ajanta Caves tell the stories of Buddhism from 200 BC to 650 AD. The caves were forgotten until they were rediscovered in the 19th century during the British Raj by some British officers during a tiger hunt.

The Ajanta Caves consist of 29 caves and were built by Buddhist monks. They used only the simplest tools like chisels and hammers. There are ornate sculptures and beautiful paintings. There are even images of princesses and nymphs. The caves were used by the Buddhist monks as a place to perform rituals and as a place to meditate and teach.

The Ellora Caves date from a slightly later period, from 350 AD to about 700 AD. These caves are interesting because they show three religions that originated in India: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. There are 34 caves: 12 are Buddhist; 17 are Hindu; and 5 are Jain. There are some caves that contain images from more than one of these religions: caves 6 and 10 have both Buddhist and Hindu images.

One of the Ellora Caves is called the Kailasa Temple, also known as the Kailasanatha Temple. It is a structure carved out of a monolith and it took over 100 years to complete. It is dedicated to Shiva, a Hindu god, and is considered to be one of the largest monoliths in the world. Every part of it is carved out of a single rock: the assembly hall, the gateway, the pavilion, the sanctum, and the tower. The entire structure is about the same size as the Parthenon in Athens.

The Jain caves are not as large as the other caves, but they contain some beautiful examples of early art. One of these caves has a carving of a lotus flower on its ceiling. There is also an image of a god seated on a lion under a mango tree full of fruit.

These caves are so numerous and impressive that it can take a long time to get the full impact of them. So reserve several days in Aurangabad just to see these two sets of caves during your tour of exciting India!

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The Crafts of India

India is an exotic and exciting tourist destination. It is a popular place to visit, and there are many affordable tours to this vibrant and colorful country.

Many tours follow the circuit called the “Golden Triangle.” This includes Delhi, where most people arrive; Agra, home of the Taj Mahal; and Jaipur, the “Pink City.”

In these cities and other places you might want to visit in India, you will have the opportunity to see some handmade crafts that you will see in no other country in the world. So during your tour of India, make sure to take the time to look at and learn about these remarkable crafts.

India is made up of many states, and some of these states are known for specific crafts. Rajasthan is the state on the western side of India and is the home of famous cities like Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Udaipur. The Thar Desert is also located here.

Rajasthan is known for several crafts including the coloring of fabrics, weaving fabrics, decorative painting, and puppetry. Fabrics are colored in several ways including tie-dyeing. The women of Rajasthan wear a long scarf called a dupatta, and this garment shows how popular the craft of dyeing fabric is. This craft belongs to a special group of people from Rajasthan: the Chippa caste.

Another part of fabric making in Rajasthan is the adding of decorative features like tiny mirrors and wooden beads. But decoration is not limited to scarves or even clothing in general. Homes are full of decorations, usually floral. Puppets are made by painting faces on mango wood, and then adding decorative clothing representative of Rajasthani fabrics.

Like Rajasthan, the neighboring state of Gujarati is also known for its fabrics. It is interesting that each part of the production of a fabric is assigned to a different caste: one caste weaves; one caste dyes; and one caste prints on fabric. Gujarati is also known for the production of large bangles worn by the women. The bangles are made of conch shell or shellac.

Far across India on the eastern side is the state of Assam. Assam is also famous for its fabrics, but it is best known for its silk, specifically the unique muga silk made by a special worm called the Muga Silkworm. The women of Assam use a domestic loom to weave the silk into fabrics. Assam is also known for its crafts made from bamboo and cane.

Carving is the craft of southern India. In the Tamil Nadu region temple carving is an important craft while wood and stone carving are the main crafts in Karnataka, north of Tamil Nadu. Artisans use chisels to create wood carvings of Hindu gods to be placed in Hindu temples. In this region soapstone is also a material that is often used for carving as it gives the finished product a very smooth surface.

For many people who create these wonderful and unique crafts, what they are doing is not work: they consider it part of their heritage and cultural tradition. Many artisans are quite proud of the beautiful products they create.

India has a very long tradition of crafts, and today famous designers in India use traditional crafts in their designs. So as you explore India, look around at the crafts both old and new and enjoy!

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Posted by: WS
Chennai - The Gateway to South India

India is a dynamic country and popular tourist destination full of wonderful surprises. It is an inexpensive place to visit, so there are many affordable tours to this country of deserts, mountains, cities, historical sights, wildlife, national parks, culture, and scrumptious food.

Visitors generally arrive in Delhi and start their tour by seeing the sights in Old Delhi and New Delhi. The Golden Triangle is a tourist circuit that begins in Delhi and then continues on to Agra, home of the world famous Taj Mahal; and then on to Jaipur, the “Pink City” in Rajasthan.

Some people want to see other parts of this vibrant country so they sometimes head south. Chennai is the gateway to South India and many visitors stay here to check out the sights. It is the capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and is located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal. It is the sixth largest city in India, and the second most financially important city after Mumbai.

Formerly known as Madras, the city was founded in 1639 by the British East India Company. Fort St. George was built in 1640 and it wasn’t until 1996 when the name was changed from the colonial era name of Madras to Chennai. It is thought that St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, came to Chennai and eventually died in the city.

Georgetown, named after Fort St. George, is the oldest neighborhood in Chennai. It is a busy commercial area and is close to the port. The fort is considered to be the first place the British established themselves in India. The Fort Museum contains many interesting articles and is famous for its large collection of books. Today the fort looks more like a mansion than a fort and it houses several government offices. St. Mary’s Church, one of the oldest churches built by the British in India, is in the fort.

There are several other interesting churches in Chennai. The Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Thomas is built over the tomb of St. Thomas. There is also a museum and a theater here. Other churches include St. Thomas Mount and St. Matthias Church, another old church built by the British.

There are other houses of worship in Chennai. Hindu temples include Kapaleeswarar Temple Karaneeswara Temple, Kundrathur Sivan Temple, Parthasarathy Temple, and Sri Ramakrishna Math- Universal Temple. There is a Muslim mosque known as Big Mosque and also as Wallajah Mosque: it was built in 1795.

Valluvar Kottam is a structure built as a memorial to Tiruvalluvar, a famous poet and saint of the area. It is an unusual looking building, shaped like a temple chariot, with a life size image of Tiruvalluvar inside. It serves as an auditorium and was opened to the public in 1976. Valluvar Kottam is important to the city of Chennai because it represents the local Tamil culture.

Chennai has several good beaches, although swimming is not recommended here because of the strong undercurrents. Beaches include Breezy Beach, Covelong, Edward Eliot’s Beach, and Marina Beach. There are numerous unspoiled beaches south of Chennai along the coastline.

Other places to visit are museums, galleries, parks, and music and dance performances. Chennai is famous for its concerts and performance: these take place at temples and auditoriums.

If you want a taste of South India, add Chennai to you “To See” list during your tour of India!

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The Sundarbans National Park

India is full of interesting things to see and do. It is a popular tourist destination, and because it is not an expensive place to visit, tours to India can be very affordable.

Delhi is the capital city of India and this is where most people arrive. The Golden Triangle is a popular tourist circuit that begins with a visit to sights in Old Delhi and New Delhi, and then moves on to Agra, the home of the fantastic Taj Mahal, and finally to Jaipur, the “Pink City” in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

People visit India to see cities, deserts, beaches, mountains, caves, and wildlife. There are at least 166 national parks in India, and one of these is quite unusual.

The Sundarbans National Park is located in West Bengal and spills into the neighboring country of Bangladesh. It is not only a national park: it is also a Royal Bengal tiger reserve and a biosphere reserve.

The Sundarbans is a natural region on the Ganges Delta. It contains the largest area of mangrove forest in the world. Because of this it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The park gets its name from the sundari tree. This is a special kind of mangrove tree that is found in this area. Spikes grow up above the ground to help the plant to breathe. But this is not just a mangrove swamp: it also includes some of the last remaining jungles that once covered this part of the world.

There are seven main rivers and many smaller channels that are part of the Ganges Delta, all of which flows southwards into the Bay of Bengal, a part of the Indian Ocean. Because of the tidal action, new islands and channels are constantly being formed.

The Sundarbans National Park has one of the largest populations of Bengal tigers in the world (about 400 tigers), and is the home of many other interesting animals.

Some of the birds that can be seen here are cormorants, eagles, falcons, ibis, kingfishers, openbill storks, swamp partridges, and woodpeckers. Aquatic animals include bull sharks, butter fish, carp, crabs, frogs, prawn, sawfish, shrimp, and starfish. There are many reptiles like chameleons, lizards, snakes, turtles, and salt-water crocodiles.

But the mammals are probably the most interesting animals in the park. In addition to the rare and endangered Bengal tigers, there are chitals, fishing cats, foxes, flying foxes, Indian grey mongooses, jungle cats, leopard cats, macaques, pangolins, spotted deer, and wild boars. Marine mammals include several kinds of dolphins and porpoises, and a kind of whale called Bryde’s whale.

To view the wildlife there are about eight watchtowers set up around the park. From these watchtowers there are fantastic panoramic views over the landscape.

Another way to experience the park is to hire a boat and take a guided cruise. Exploring the maze of the backwaters on your own would not be a good idea. First, it would be easy to get lost. And second, you never know when a Bengal tiger is going to appear around the bend!

There are other things to do here like visiting a local village, taking a bicycle ride to the market, going fishing or crabbing with a local, and watching a performance of “Bonobibi Pala,” a rural dance drama put on by the villagers.

The Sundarbans National Park is one of the most unique parks in the world, so add it to your tour of India!

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Posted by: WS
Shimla - Summer Capital of British India

India is one of the most colorful and fascinating countries in the world. It is a popular tourist destination because it has so much to offer: huge cities, historic sights, breathtaking scenery, interesting wildlife, delicious food, and an amazing culture. No wonder there are so many affordable tours to this diverse and dynamic country.

People usually fly into Delhi’s international airport. After visiting the sights in Old Delhi and New Delhi, many people continue on the tourist circuit known as “The Golden Triangle.” After Delhi, the second city is Agra, home of the beautiful Taj Mahal, and finally to Jaipur, the “Pink City” in the state of Rajasthan.

India has a long history, and part of that included the British Raj, the time when India was part of the British Empire. The British made Simla their summer capital, a place to escape the unbearable heat. It is technically called Shimla, but the British called it Simla. Today Shimla is the capital city of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India.

Himachal Pradesh means “snow-laden region” and, because of its cool temperatures, Shimla became a popular place to visit. The word Shimla comes from the name, Shyamala Devi, who is an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.

Today Shimla remains a popular tourist destination during the summer months. One way to get to Shimla is on the Shimla Mountain Train which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Shimla is famous for its Victorian architecture and its hills covered in dense evergreen forests: it is a popular place for mountain biking. The Victorian buildings sit on the highest areas of Shimla while bazaars and restaurants and other buildings sit at the lower levels of the city. Vehicles are banned from the central historic area called the Mall, so this part of Shimla is known for its quiet atmosphere and clean mountain air. North of the Mall is the Ridge, a good place to take in the view of the seven spectacular hills of Shimla.

The Mall is one of the most popular places for visitors to spend time while in Shimla. It’s the place where the people of Shimla meet, and it is also the main shopping area for the city: here you’ll find banks, bars, clubs, the post office, restaurants, and tourist offices.

Above the town you’ll find Jakhu Temple on Jakhu Hill. It is a Hindu temple that commands a striking view of the mountains from its high location. There are many monkeys here, so hold on to your belongings! It is a strenuous one hour walk uphill, or you can go by car.

Even higher is Jakhoo Hill, the highest point in Shimla. This is the most beautiful view of all of Shimla and the surrounding area and a very popular tourist spot. At the top of the hill there is an old Hanuman temple.

Another beautiful spot to visit is Chadwick Falls, located not far from Shimla. The landscape here is stunning, and the waterfalls are amazing during the monsoon season.

Some of the buildings are interesting to visit. Christ Church, on the Ridge, was built in 1846 and is the second oldest church in northern India. The Viceregal Lodge, on the Mall, is a mansion built in 1888: guided tours are available here. The State Museum displays nearly 10,000 artifacts related to the Himachal Pradesh region.

Venture up to Shimla during your tour of India and cool off and relax!

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Posted by: WS
The People of India

India is a huge country that is full of variety, and this is what makes it such a popular tourist destination. There are bustling cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata; incredible landscapes like the Himalayan Mountain range, the Thar Desert, the Ganges Plain, rivers, lakes, forests, and grasslands; delicious cuisine; historic temples and monuments; and a large number of ethnicities.

Delhi is the starting point for most tours to India, and many of these tours can be quite affordable. India is not an expensive place to visit, so people on a budget can easily find a tour that suits their needs.

After visiting Old Delhi and New Delhi, visitors often continue on to two other cities on what is called the “Golden Triangle.” These are Agra with its world-famous Taj Mahal, and Jaipur, the “Pink City” in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

After visiting these cities, some people venture to other parts of India for different reasons: maybe trekking in the mountains; visiting caves and historic buildings; seeing wildlife in one of the many national parks in India; and much more.

During your tour you will meet a variety of local Indians and it is important to have some understanding of who the Indian people are. They are sometimes called Bharatiya, and Indians are both citizens of the country of India, and also people of Indian culture. India is the second most populous country in the world, and contains more than 17% of the world’s population.

The people of India come from many different regional groups defined by language, culture, and religion. Although there is no national language specified in the Constitution of India, about 75% of the population of India speak Hindi. Over 78% of the population follow the Hindu religion.

Hinduism is not the only religion that was born in India: Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism were also founded in India. Religion plays a very important role in the life of most Indian people. The mother goddess of India is called Bharat Mata, or “Mother India.” She is the personification of the nation of India and is usually depicted wearing a saffron colored sari.

People have been living in what is today India for thousands of years. Some of the greatest dynasties in the world were established in India: the Maurya Empire was the first great dynasty and it began in 4th and 3rd century BC. Other dynasties include Chola, Gupta, Maratha, Rashtrakuta, Vijayanagara, and the Western Chalukya Empires. It was from these dynasties that much of today’s Indian culture sprang.

One aspect of the culture is the caste system. The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to all of its citizens, but the caste system still exists in India today, mostly in rural areas, and not as much in the cities. Each individual inherits a caste through lineage or clan.

There are four castes in the system: the Brahmins are the priests and scholars; the Kshatriyas are the rulers and warriors; the Vaishyas are merchants and traders; and the Shudras are laborers and peasants. The “untouchables” or “Dalits” are not even included in the caste system.

Today, of course, not all Indian people live in India. There are large populations of Indians in Britain, Canada, South Africa, and the United States. It is estimated that there are between 12 and 20 million Indians living outside of India.

But you must go to India to see Indian people in their own fantastic country, so start planning your tour of India today!

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Posted by: WS
Best of Burmese Water Sports

In Burma there are lots of opportunities to take part in water sports and the choices are increasing all the time as the tourism infrastructure develops. Some of the beaches are amongst the most unspoilt in Asia and are the perfect place to relax after a tour of Burma. Here’s a lowdown on the best ways to enjoy water sports in Burma.

Scuba Diving

One of the best bits about the Burmese coast is the amount of magnificent reefs and marine species. Off Ngapali Beach and Ngwe Saung there is a lot of scuba diving which mainly focuses on the neighbouring islands and the Bay of Bengal. Another developing area which has some really impressive diving is in the Andaman Sea and the Mergui Archipelago. Live aboard dive boats operate from Kawthaung on the southern tip of Burma to many of these diving locations. Some of the best places to go include the famous Burma Banks where there are rays, sharks and much more.

White Water Rafting

Burma has some excellent white water rafting sites which are just the thing for people on cheap tours of Burma to enjoy. One of the best places to go is Putao which is in Northern Burma in the Himalayan region. The May Kha and Nam Lang Rivers have many rapids suitable for white water rafting. This is an area where visits can combine a trekking and white water rafting tour and with camping facilities as it is fairly remote. Special permits are required to visit this area and so planning needs to be done in advance.


In Burma sailing is possible, especially in the Mergui peninsula where encounters with the sea gypsies are not uncommon. Whilst many people visiting this area choose to use a boat charter there are possibilities of renting sailboats. The best time to sail is between November and April. This is a wonderful place to see the natural environment and also to meet the locals. Sailing is also possible around the Ayeyarwaddy River. Anyone sailing in Burma will need a special permit, hence the reason why so many people use a boat charter.


Along the coast at Ngapali beach and also at Dawei there are safe places for visitors to swim. Snorkelling is also popular and you’ll find guided tours run by locals on the best places to go and snorkel. The coast is developing all the time with new resorts, many of which also have swimming pools. This is a great way to cool off on a hot day and to relax after a day touring. People on cheap tours of Burma will find a few days swimming on the beaches a really cost effective way to spend time here and chill out.

As Burma develops over the next few years the access to more diverse water sports will increase and there will be even more opportunities for visitors to enjoy. Why not include a water based activity in your next trip to Burma.

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Posted by: WS
The Vientiane Vibe

With major tourist destinations like Thailand and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Laos is often overlooked. And it shouldn’t be! It is a quiet country with lots of surprises around each corner and experiences that will be special and memorable.

There are several different ways to arrive in Laos: by plane, by car or by train. Most people arrive by plane and the airport is just a couple of miles from Vientiane, the capital and largest city in Laos. Most flights arrive from other cities in Southeast Asia like Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (home of Angkor Wat) in Cambodia, Hanoi and Saigon in Vietnam, and several others.

So what’s the vibe in Vientiane? Relaxed and laid back. It’s a small city along the Mekong River, and, although there’s plenty to do, most people take their time and move slowly.

Vientiane has an interesting history. It was the center of the Kingdom of Lan Xang, which means “million elephants.” About two hundred years ago it was plundered by the Siamese, but later it became the capital of the French colony. After Laos gained its independence in 1953 as well as during the communist revolution in 1975, Vientiane remained the country’s capital.

Compared to the chaos in other capital cities in Southeast Asia, navigating Vientiane is a breeze. Most streets either run parallel to the Mekong River (more or less west to east), or perpendicular (north to south). Because of the French colonial era, French is the second language after Lao, so a little knowledge of French can be very helpful. But with tourism on the rise, there are plenty of local people who have at least a basic knowledge of English.

Another leftover from the French colonial period is the wide boulevards. Many of the trees have been left standing in spite of street work, so some of the streets are pleasant for taking a stroll.

The most important tourist attraction is Pha That Luang. Located in the center of the city, this is a large three-layered gold-gilded stupa that contains Buddhist remains. It is the most important religious structure in Laos, and it has become the national symbol. Although it has been reconstructed several times, it is thought to date from the 3rd century and was originally built as a Hindu temple.

There is an inner courtyard that affords closer views of this sacred structure. Inside Pha That Luang there are many statues of Buddha as well as things that are related to the culture of Laos. There is also a statue of one of the Khmer kings, Jayavaman VII.

Another important religious structure is Wat Si Saket, also known as Sisaket Museum. Although it was only built about two hundred years ago, it is the oldest standing Buddhist temple in Vientiane. You will immediately notice that this temple is built in a style quite different from other buildings in Laos: with its five-tiered roof, it was built in the Siamese style. Like Pha That Luang, there are plenty of images of Buddha in this temple.

Patuxai is Vientiane’s answer to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, but with lots of Buddhist decorations. Instead of two gates there are four gates and it is surrounded by a pleasant grassy area. Walking to the top is worth the effort because there are good views of Vientiane.

There are few other things like the Lao National Museum, other museums, other temples, and parks. But take your time: when in Laos, do like the Laotians!

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Posted by: WS
The Formidable Forbidden City

Chinese civilization stretches back for about 4,000 years and is rich and fascinating. Most tours begin in Beijing, the capital city of China, and, fortunately, traveling to China is not expensive.

Beijing is not the largest city in China: that award goes to Shanghai. But Beijing is the cultural capital as well as the political capital of China. And that means that there are some pretty fabulous things to see and do in this vibrant city.

At the top of just about everybody’s list is the Forbidden City. Why is it so formidable? For one thing, it has nearly 1,000 buildings! For another, it cover 180 acres! And, as you would expect, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: it contains the world’s largest collection of wooden buildings.

It was built between 1406 and 1420 and served as the imperial palace through several Chinese imperial dynasties: from the Ming dynasty that lasted from 1368 to 1644; through the Qing dynasty, or Manchu dynasty, the last Chinese imperial dynasty that ruled from 1644 to 1912 when the Republic of China was founded.

Why was it called “forbidden?” Because no one was allowed to enter the palace without the Chinese emperor’s permission. And its enormous size explains why it was called a city.

It served as the palace for 24 emperors and was the political center of China until 1912 when Puyi, the last Emperor of China, abdicated and the republic began. Interestingly enough, he was allowed to stay inside the Inner Court, while the Outer Court was used by the public, until he was evicted in 1924. In 1925 the Palace Museum was founded.

The palace saw some damage in 1949 due to the zeal of the People’s Republic of China; fortunately this was stopped when Premier Zhou Enlai took control and sent guards to protect the Forbidden City.

What can you expect to see when you visit the Forbidden City? Not everything is open, but, despite the oral tradition that there are 9,999 rooms, there are in actuality 8,886 rooms in the nearly 1,000 buildings within the large rectangular shaped city. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a larger area called the Imperial City.

The Forbidden City is surrounded by a high city wall that is over 25 feet high. The moat is over 170 feet wide and is 20 feet deep. Everything about this palace was meant to awe everyone who visited or just walked past it.

There is a gate on each of the four walls, but the “Meridian Gate” on the south wall opens on to an enormous square. After crossing the five bridges over the Inner Golden Water River, visitors see the impressive and famous “Gate of Supreme Harmony” with the “Hall of Supreme Harmony.”

These southern areas are called the Outer Court or Front Court and were used for public ceremonies. Beyond this area, to the north, is the Inner Court, or Back Court. This was the actual residence of the emperor and his family. The Inner Court is full of buildings, courtyards, and gardens with elegant decorations.

The Forbidden City: fit for an emperor!

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Posted by: WS
Saigon, AKA Ho Chi Minh City

Although its official name has been Ho Chi Minh City since it was renamed in 1975, most Vietnamese locals and foreigners still call it Saigon. It’s also sometimes known as HCMC or HCM, but since as a tourist you’ll most likely be a foreigner, let’s keep it simple and just call it Saigon.

With a population of over seven million people, Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam but not its capital: Hanoi in the north is its capital. Saigon might be a large city, but many of the points of interest for visitors are found relatively close to each other.

The Saigon Opera House is an easy to find starting place for a walking tour of the main sights of Saigon. It’s also known as the Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City and is an example of French colonial architecture. Built in 1897, it later served as the meeting place of the Lower House Assembly of South Vietnam. But it began to be used as a theater again after the reunification of Vietnam in 1975.

Just across the street from the Opera House is the venerable old Hotel Continental, built in 1880 during the French colonial period. The hotel has gone through many renovations, but it still retains its colonial charm.

Just a couple of blocks away you’ll find the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica. Built between 1863 and 1880 by the French it features two tall bell towers on its facade which faces a small park: this makes for a great place to take some photos of the basilica.

To the right of this small park you will see the Saigon Central Post Office. Built between 1886 and 1891 by the famous French architect, Gustave Eiffel, it is an example of neoclassical architecture.

A short walk to the left through a shady park will bring you to the not-so-French-colonial-looking Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace. It was built between 1962 and 1966 and originally served as South Vietnam’s presidential palace. Most of what you see inside has been left pretty much like it was when the war ended in 1975.

Other related sights are the War Remnants Museum, the Museum of Vietnamese History, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

Continuing your walking tour, just a few blocks back in the direction of the Opera House you will find what was originally called the Hotel de Ville, or City Hall. Now called the People’s Committee Hall, it’s a pretty yellow and cream colored French colonial building. It is lighted at night and this adds to its beauty. There is a statue of Ho Chi Minh in front of this building, and this is a popular place for photography.

Just down the street from here is the large and popular public market called the Ben Thanh Market. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city and a great place to find souvenirs, textiles, handicrafts, and some delicious local food.

A little further afield is the Jade Emperor Pagoda. One of the oldest temples in Saigon, it was built by the Chinese community in 1909 and is a Taoist pagoda. It is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda and is filled with lots of Taoist and Buddhist gods. There are turtles in the small pond in the courtyard.

There are many more things to see and do in Saigon, so find a place to stay downtown and explore!

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Posted by: WS
Kicking around in Kuta

Bali is an exotic island and a popular tourist destination. It’s an affordable place to visit, so many tourists arrive at the nearby international airport, and then enjoy hanging out in Kuta for some fun and relaxation.

Because of its proximity, there are many Australians who visit Bali and many who stay in Kuta. It’s been a mecca for backpackers for many years so there are lots of inexpensive places to stay and eat.

But it’s grown over the years and now there are many kinds of accommodations from budget cottages up to villas and resorts with spas.

One of the main reasons people come to Kuta is the beach. It’s long and probably the best beach in Bali. It’s safe for swimming and plenty of people enjoy sunbathing and surfing. There are other activities to be tried on Kuta Beach like massage and hair braiding, but most people come for the sun and surf.

One reason that surfing is popular on this beach is because there are not a lot of rocks and coral. This makes it a good place to take surfing lessons, or for beginners to give it a try. There are surf schools and also some friendly locals who will be happy to teach you how to surf for considerably lower rates than the surf schools. There are also surfing charter tours that take visitors to surf spots further afield, once you get the hang of it.

Kuta has very competitive prices for many things, and this includes spa treatments and massage. There are dozens of spas in Kuta: some are connected to hotels and others are independently run. It is possible to get ripped off by some of the people offering massage on the beach, but this can be avoided by visiting the spas off the beach.

Other than working on your tan or surfing, there are not a lot of things to see and do in Kuta, at least during the day time. There is the Bali Bomb Memorial that remembers the tragic bombing in 2002. There are also several places dedicated to yoga and meditation practice and education. And there are plenty of places to buy things including boutique shops as well as western-style shopping malls.

Night time is party time in Kuta! Many young people come out at night to get wild and bar hop. There are many kinds of bars in Kuta like sports bars and some of the waterfront bars are tamer than the Jalan Legian bars.

There are many choices for places to eat in Kuta including local and international food. There are very inexpensive beach stalls along Kuta Beach and the food is quite good. One popular local dish is called Bakso, which means meatball. It’s a soup with meatballs, noodles, and extras like vegetables, hard-boiled egg, fried tofu, and fried wanton in a meaty broth. It’s easy to find this soup because vendors walk around pushing food carts and selling the soup as they wander around the streets. Dining options also include more upscale places that offer everything from Balinese to Mexican food.

Kuta is the main gateway to Bali. Many people choose to stay in Kuta: it’s a fun place. But it is also the jumping off place to explore other parts of Bali. Either way, have fun in Kuta!

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Posted by: WS
Cool Kathmandu

To the first time visitor, Kathmandu can seem overwhelming. But it is a very special and popular tourist destination, partly because there’s so much to see and do there, and partly because it’s so affordable.

With nearly three million people, Kathmandu is the largest city in Nepal and is also its capital. It’s located in the Kathmandu Valley and most visitors arrive at its international airport. The valley is bowl shaped and is surrounded by four large mountains. It’s quite a thrilling descent into the valley on a clear day as the snow-capped Himalayan Mountain range is visible.

Kathmandu has a rich cultural history that goes back several thousand years. It, along with its two sister cities of Patan and Bhaktapur, has been designated as the “Kathmandu Valley - UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is the most popular tourist sight in the city. It is full of temples and palaces and dates back to about 1000 AD. The temples include Bhagwati, Indrapur, Krishna, Mahendreswar, Narayan, Sasaswati, Shiva, and the Talegu Temple which is one of the oldest on the square.

Also located at Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, the Hanuman Dhoka is the former royal palace that is spread over five acres. It gets its name from the stone statue of Hanuman the Hindu monkey god. Within this complex are temples, courtyards, statues, and museums.

You can spend a lot of time wandering around the square. It can get a little crowded with people, cows, and pigeons, so get an early start if you can!

Just south of Durbar Square is the Kumari Palace. This is the home of the “Kumari,” which means the “Living Goddess.” A Kumari is an earthly manifestation of the goddess Taleju. They are worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists and they are carried everywhere: their feet can not touch the ground! You might catch a glimpse of her if you visit the palace late in the day.

The other important sight in Kathmandu is called Swayambhu, which is often referred to as the Monkey Temple. Sitting on a hill overlooking Kathmandu, Swayambhu is a large stupa and is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal. With 350 steps, it’s a bit of a hike, but there are nice views, many ancient carvings, and lots of monkeys on the way up, which is where its nickname comes from.

Once you reach the top you can reward yourself with a nice cold drink. There are lots of vendors selling souvenirs and drinks, and there is also a restaurant at the top. Swayambhu is important enough to have its own UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

If you haven’t had enough World Heritage Sites, there’s one more nearby. The Boudha Stupa in nearby Boudha is one of the biggest stupas in the world and is very sacred to Tibetan Buddhists.

The Narayanhiti Palace Museum is the former royal palace. Don’t miss the big fruit bats hanging from the trees on the grounds.

In addition to all the historic buildings, there are many activities that are popular in the Kathmandu area. These include bungy jumping, flights over the Himalayan mountains, and trekking.

Whatever your interests, hop on a plane and dive into the overwhelming but rewarding city of Kathmandu!

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Posted by: WS
Bangkok - Megatropolis Gateway to Asia

Bangkok is the capital and largest city in Thailand. With a population of over 11 million people, it serves different purposes for different people.

For some visitors, Bangkok is a destination; for others, it’s a brief stopover on their way to other places in Thailand; and, finally, for others, it’s a stopover on their way to other places in Asia.

Some people make flight connections and never leave the airport in Bangkok. Don’t make this mistake! Bangkok has so much to offer: there is something for everyone to enjoy in this vibrant city.

Bangkok is spread out over a huge area and this can be confusing. But once you figure out what you want to see and what you want to do, you can come up with a plan to navigate the city, especially with the Skytrain and the underground metro systems.

Bangkok was not always the capital of Thailand. The famous ancient city of Ayutthaya, upstream on the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok, was the capital of Siam before it was burned to the ground by the Burmese army in the late 18th century.

Undaunted, King Rama I turned a small trading post along the river into his capital in 1782, and over the years it grew to be the cosmopolitan city of today with its beautiful temples, outstanding shopping, affordable accommodations, tasty Thai food, and relaxing Thai massage and other spa treatments.

Many people start their visit to Bangkok with a tour of the Grand Palace, the former residence of the King. He no longer lives in this palace, but it is still used today for special royal ceremonies.

The Grand Palace is a huge complex that is located in the historic center of Bangkok called Rattanskosin, not far from the banks of the Chao Phraya River. You can spend half a day just wondering around the palace grounds, that’s how big it is. Because the palace was built over so many years, its architecture ranges from that which is similar to the early architectural style as seen in Ayutthaya; to more modern structures based on a combination of Thai and Western Styles.

Wander to your heart’s delight, but don’t miss the famous Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred temple in Thailand. It is a part of the Grand Palace, and houses the equally famous statue called the “Emerald Buddha.”

“Wat” means “temple” in the Thai language, so you will see many wats all over Bangkok, all over Thailand for that matter. Just next door to the Grand Palace is one of the most famous wats in Thailand: Wat Pho. It is famous because it is the home of an excellent massage school and center for teaching traditional Thai medicine, but even more famous for its enormous statute of a reclining Buddha. It’s the largest such statue in Thailand, and also the largest in the world.

Why not enjoy the garden around Wa Pho and get a relaxing massage after all that stomping around?

There are many other temples, like Wat Arun across the river; Wat Saket and the Golden Mount; Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing; and many museums like the Museum of Siam.

Food? Great food is found all over the city from the humblest street establishment to the restaurants in five star hotels.

Don’t pass through the Bangkok airport without checking out Bangkok!

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Posted by: WS
Amazing Angkor Wat

Cambodia has much to offer visitors, but Angkor Wat is by far the most popular tourist destination in the country. It is officially called the “Angkor Archaeological Park” and, located in the northern part of Cambodia, it is probably the most important archaeological site in Southeast Asia. And, if you thought it might be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you would be guessing correctly!

The park covers an enormous area in the forest near the city of Siem Reap. There is an international airport here, and this is where most visitors arrive.

There are spectacular remains of the capitals of several Khmer empires that stretched from the 9th to the 15th century. There are many temples: Angkor Wat is the most famous of the temples, and this is why most people refer to the whole archaeological park as Angkor Wat. The Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom is the second most visited part of the extensive park.

Savvy visitors will want to get an early start and arrive at Angkor Wat as soon as it opens in the morning. It’s less crowded the earlier you get there; you avoid the noon day heat; and, if you’re a photographer, the light it better in the morning or late afternoon when the noon light doesn’t wash out your photos.

When most people think of Southeast Asia, they think of Buddhism. But Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu temple. It wasn’t until later, in about the year 1,200, that the Khmer ruler converted to Buddhism.

This is important to know because the temples were built on the Hindu idea of a “temple mountain.” This concept represents the mythological Mount Meru. The main temple of the park, Angkor Wat, is built like this. First, it is surrounded by a moat; and second, the temple is built up in a pyramid-like shape to represent a mountain; and, finally, there are five towers which represent the five peaks of the mythical Mount Meru.

While Angkor Wat was built during the time of Hinduism, the next capital city, Angkor Thom, was built after the ruler switched to Buddhism. Strangely enough, the next leader switched back to Hinduism and defaced many of the Buddhist elements of Angkor Thom. Eventually Buddhism won out over Hinduism and the remaining rulers, all of them eager to engage on building projects to symbolize their power, followed Buddhist principles.

In addition to the Bayon temple with its 54 enormous stone faces on its towers, don’t miss the nearby Terrace of the Elephants. This terrace was built so the ruler could review his army as they returned from their victorious war campaigns. The foundation of this platform is full of fascinating carved elephants.

Another part of Angkor that not many visitors bother to see is West Baray. A baray is a manmade water reservoir and, although East Baray has dried up, West Baray has not, and its size is mind-boggling. Archaeologists are not sure of the purpose of the barays. It was assumed at first that they were built as practical sources of water for things like irrigation. But now there is some speculation that there might have been political or religious reasons to build these massive reservoirs.

After stomping around the temples all day, do what the locals do: jump in West Baray and cool off!

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Posted by: WS
Bali - The Enchanted Island

Bali is nicknamed the “Island of the Gods.” And for good reason! It holds many delights and surprises for the visitor. It is full of sandy beaches, green rice paddies, volcanic mountains, Hindu temples, tasty food, arts and crafts, and very friendly people. It is also a very affordable destination for tourists.

Bali is one of the thousands of islands that make up the nation of Indonesia. The neighboring island of Java is the home of the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, but Bali is the most popular place in Indonesia for visitors from all over the world.

Most people fly into the international airport on Bali not far from Kuta Beach. Many people chose to stay in Kuta because there are tons of hotels, shops, and restaurants and nightlife. There is also a popular beach for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing.

For those visitors who want to explore a little further, Ubud to the north of Kuta is probably the first choice. It is famous for its arts and crafts and is the cultural center of Bali. Once a quiet little village surrounded by rice fields, Ubud has become full of hotels, museums, restaurants, and shops. It’s a great place to find souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home.

Ubud is also the home of the famous Monkey Forest. There is a pleasant path through the forest to a Hindu Temple, and there are lots of monkeys to be seen here. Just remember to hold on to your belongings: the monkeys can be very sneaky and are known to grab things, especially anything food-related.

Another interesting place to visit is Tanah Lot. This is on the west coast of Bali, but not too far from Kuta. What is so special here is the Hindu temple that sits on a rock just offshore: it is very picturesque and begs to be photographed. During low tide you can walk from the shore across to the base of the temple.

Lots of people come here in the late afternoon to watch the sunset. There are many souvenir shops and restaurants, so it makes a great half day trip if you’re staying in Kuta.

Hinduism is important to the culture of Bali, so there are many temples scattered across the island. The main temple, referred to the “Mother Temple,” is called Besakih. It is located on Mount Agung, the highest mountain on Bali and the fifth highest volcano in Indonesia.

Besakih is very sacred to the Balinese. It is located just north of a town called Klungkung. At the base of the mountain there are many eating shops and souvenirs.

After leaving this area you begin to climb and are amazed at the 18 separate temples and other shrines in the temple complex. It’s not a terribly steep slope, but comfortable shoes will be helpful. Because of its height, Mount Agung is often enshrouded in clouds.

Another interesting place to visit is Lake Batur in northeast Bali. It is a crater lake, and the active volcano, Mount Batur, looks down on the serene lake. At the top of the crater there are restaurants and an important Hindu temple called Pura Ulun Danu Batur. Early morning sunrise treks to the top of the crater begin down at the lake.

This is just a short list of some of the wonderful things to see and do in Bali. It truly is paradise, so book your tour now!

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