Posted by: WS
Why You Should Pack Your Bags & Head to Bali

We certainly don't need any convincing to visit the Indonesian paradise of Bali, but in case you do, here are our top eight reasons to experience the Island of the Gods.

Friendly and Welcoming People

With branded hospitality, you can expect to collect many memories – a highlight being the warm and genuine smiles that greet you everywhere. In Bali, no tourist demand is too demanding, and service with a smile is a standard. So, those mundane tasks of life you need to get done? They do it with an overall sense of joy.

Rich Culture of Religion

Spirituality and community is integral to the Balinese culture, to the point where you'll see more temples than homes. Few visitors fail to be enchanted by it, and while it's almost impossible to visit all 20,000 temples, you must visit the most iconic ones. An undoubted highlight is the Tampak Siring Temple, a temple fed by local springs, where you can take part in a traditional purification ceremony in the spot used by Balinese for over a thousand years for good health and prosperity. 


Ever dreamed of turning into a millionaire overnight? With the strength of the American dollar ($1USD~10,000IDR), retail therapy has never felt this good.

Show-stopping Natural Beauty

From picturesque rice terraces; active volcanoes; spectacular crater lakes, caves, lush forests; stunning sunsets and the most beautiful beaches, Bali embodies the sun, sand and surf getaway you've been daydreaming of.

World-Class Spas

Immerse yourself in total relaxation and personal indulgence with ancient island rituals, indigenous ingredients and healing techniques. Bali is an oasis of tranquility, and a treatment done by the Alaya Ubud or Melia Bali will leave you refreshed and reinvigorated. In Bali, pampering is art perfected.

Award-Winning Cuisine

If you're the ultimate foodie, you'll want to try Bali's bucketlist-worthy cuisine. From lawar (chopped coconut, garlic, chilli, with pork or chicken), Bebek betutu (duck stuffed with spices wrapped in banana leaves and coconut husks cooked in a pit of embers), to barbecued seafood on the beach, it's a tantalizingly fusion of various countries.

Taste the World's Most Unique (and Expensive) Coffee

How much do you spend on your daily dose of caffeine to get you through the week? Well, one thing you can brag to your friends is to say you've had a sip of Civet Coffee, otherwise known as Kopi Luwak. You can go on a special visit to a coffee plantation to learn about the cultivation process that involves a wild cat called the Asian Palm Civet.

Bucket-list Adventures

Whether it's island hopping, trekking, doing water sports or going on a safari, Bali is the perfect place to release your inhibitions for the adventure of a lifetime.

So if you've been saving up for a luxurious escapade, wanting to relax with some friends in the ultimate paradise, or simply want to go on a mesmerizing getaway, Bali is the ultimate travel destination and more.

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Posted by: WS
2016 Holi Festival Photo Highlights

Wave goodbye to winter and welcome spring with fellow revelers at the Holi Festival in India - the most colorful, joyous celebration in the world!

As the most boisterous of Hindu festivals, children and adults throw a rainbow of colorful gulal over each other. It's sanctioned anarchy - where the usual social norms and barriers between caste, status, sex and age are broken down; and where street scenes begin to resemble impressionist paintings with everyone daubed head to toe in yellow and pink, green and purple.

But why all the colors? As the festival of love, this tradition symbolizes the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the time when flowers bloom and provide beautiful and vibrant colors throughout India.

So with only a few seats available, you should book this tour package for next Spring now! Click here to cross this off your bucketlist.

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Posted by: WS
Best Mother-Daughter Getaways

With travel - adventure, conflict and learning blend into shared memories that will last a lifetime, making it the gift that keeps on giving.

That's why we asked "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would have the ultimate girls' escapade?", and you answered! Here's the top 3 places where you can gift Mom a special getaway this Mother's Day.


Exotic and cultural, ancient and complex, the Land of Smiles radiates a golden vibrancy from its striking temples and pristine beaches to the warm and friendly locals. And from the mouth-watering cuisine, underground cave shrines, hilltop temples and azure waters, Thailand is a destination that offers everything for the ultimate ladies retreat.


China is famed for the marathon meanderings of its Great Wall, the towering high-altitude palaces of Tibet and the great cave-temple complexes that dot the ancient silk-trade routes. Few other countries can offer as much in a single visit, and whether it’s your first visit or twentieth, travel to China will always be a fast-changing adventure for you both!


The nation is filled with colonial gems, perfect for the history junkies. Then there's the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu and all her majesty - for thrill seekers and more. The surrounding varied terrain is nothing less than spectacular, from the heights of the Andes and the lush tropical jungles of the Amazon, to the highest navigable lake on the planet, Lake Titicaca. Cap it off with leisure, luxury and world-class cuisine in the lively cities of Lima and Cusco, and you’ve only begun your journey of a lifetime that balances adventure with leisure.

So, which of these destinations will you be heading to?

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Visiting Machu Picchu

Sitting at around 8,000 feet above sea level, this lost Inca city is a remarkable site that is nestled in Peru’s Sacred Valley. It is one of the country’s most visited sites and takes the breath away of every traveler that has the opportunity to explore the spectacular ruins.

The History of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450 AD high on a mountain - hidden and protected from the world. It is a remarkable archaeological site, with the complex being built completely out of cut stone and mortar, without the use of any iron. It is not known for sure what or who Machu Picchu was built for, with some experts rationalizing that it was a resort for the elite, while others say it was a ceremonial site.

Machu Picchu was inhabited until maybe 1592, at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Still, the Spanish did not even know that the complex existed, which left it open to the devices of the surrounding jungle. Over the centuries, few people actually knew of its existence.


In 1911, American historian Hiram Bingham went looking for the site, which he believed existed from an ancient map. To his excitement, a local farmer knew of its existence and brought him to the site. Excavation and clearing began in 1912 with the full support of Peruvian President Leguia. In addition to the ruins themselves, numerous artifacts were discovered at Machu Picchu, which Bingham brought with him to study at Yale University. Unfortunately, he was later accused of stealing the artifacts and depriving Peruvians a right to learn about their own history and culture. These artifacts still remain in the United States, with the locals still arguing about it to this day.

Today, Machu Picchu is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and a major attraction in Peru.

Seeing Machu Picchu

To reach Machu Picchu, you'll journey up into the Andes on the Vistadome train through the Sacred Valley to Aguas Callienties, the closest settlement to the historic site. A great place to see the ruins is from the top of Wayna Picchu, which towers behind the site, though the climb is a steep one. Most look down upon the ruins from Huayna Picchu before making their way inside.

As an added perk, we offer an optional second day to explore the site! Your group will arrive at Machu Picchu early the next morning, before other tourists crowd the area. Take this solitary time to fully absorb the ruins' breathtaking and tranquil beauty.

If you love to spy thrilling landscapes, explore ancient civilizations and experience a culture unlike your own, then book your Peru adventure here!

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5 Fascinating Facts About Peru

There's more to Peru than just Machu Picchu.

It's a brilliant meld of diverse influences, from the Incan empire and Spanish conquistadors to its contemporary multinational population. Not to mention that the varied terrain is nothing less than spectacular, from the heights of the Andes to the lush tropical jungles of the Amazon.

Here are some surprising, fascinating facts that make Peru the diverse gem it really is and why you need to head there this Fall!

1. The guinea pig isn't a pet, but a traditional dish!

With its unique fusion of Quechua, Spanish and Asian cuisines -- and ocean-fresh seafood -- Peru has become one of the great foodie meccas of the world. If you're into adventurous eating and exotic flavors, sample local favorites guinea pig and alpaca. Guinea pigs even have their own national holiday, which falls on the second Friday in October of every year.

Cuy (guinea pig) is served whole—often with the head on.

2. Peru has almost 4,000 varieties of potato.

From chips and french fries to potato vodka, Peruvians have had the potato as a staple since it was discovered near Lake Titicaca 8,000 years ago.

Potatoes are a Peruvian staple.

3. Peru is home to the purest form of chocolate.

Pure Nacional, the world's rarest chocolate, was almost extinct until its rediscovery in 2009 by two mining officials helped pave the way for chocolate tourism in Peru. Unlike European chocolatiers (think Godiva), the nation actually produces chocolate and grows its own cocoa beans.

Pure Nacional has a floral aroma and a persistent mellow richness.

4. The animal geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines continue to be a mystery.

Thought to have been made by a pre-Inca civilization between AD 450 and 600, the sketched symbols on the Nazca terrain remain a mystery. Could it be from a UFO, or a ritual guideline to match with constellations? Whatever the case may be, archaeologists, scientists, history buffs and travelers head there on their way to (or back from) Machu Picchu.

The Nazca lines consist of spiders, dogs, monkeys and other animals.

5. Peru's Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake and South America's largest lake.

Ascending even higher into the clouds at more than 12,000 feet above sea level is Lake Titicaca, considered to be the birthplace of the world, where the god Con Tiqui Viracocha created mankind, as well as the sun, moon and stars to light the way. On our tour, you'll meet direct descendants of the Incan people, enjoy their traditional dances and eat some wonderful home-cooked cuisine.

The Uros live on self-fashioned floating islands in Lake Titicaca.

We now offer perfectly paced, all-inclusive tours through the Land of the Incas for 12 or 15 days, starting at just $3,299 and including roundtrip airfare, ground transport, award-winning hotel accommodations, meals and sightseeing galore. If you don't want to miss the chance to enjoy this trip of a lifetime, click here!

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Posted by: WS
5 Fascinating Facts About Peru

There's more to Peru than just Machu Picchu.

It's a brilliant meld of diverse influences, from the Incan empire and Spanish conquistadors to its contemporary multinational population. Not to mention that the varied terrain is nothing less than spectacular, from the heights of the Andes to the lush tropical jungles of the Amazon.

Here are some surprising, fascinating facts that make Peru the diverse gem it really is and why you need to head there this Fall!

1. The guinea pig isn't a pet, but a traditional dish!

With its unique fusion of Quechua, Spanish and Asian cuisines -- and ocean-fresh seafood -- Peru has become one of the great foodie meccas of the world. If you're into adventurous eating and exotic flavors, sample local favorites guinea pig and alpaca. Guinea pigs even have their own national holiday, which falls on the second Friday in October of every year.

Cuy (guinea pig) is served whole—often with the head on.

2. Peru has almost 4,000 varieties of potato.

From chips and french fries to potato vodka, Peruvians have had the potato as a staple since it was discovered near Lake Titicaca 8,000 years ago.

Potatoes are a Peruvian staple.

3. Peru is home to the purest form of chocolate.

Pure Nacional, the world's rarest chocolate, was almost extinct until its rediscovery in 2009 by two mining officials helped pave the way for chocolate tourism in Peru. Unlike European chocolatiers (think Godiva), the nation actually produces chocolate and grows its own cocoa beans.

Pure Nacional has a floral aroma and a persistent mellow richness.

4. The animal geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines continue to be a mystery.

Thought to have been made by a pre-Inca civilization between AD 450 and 600, the sketched symbols on the Nazca terrain remain a mystery. Could it be from a UFO, or a ritual guideline to match with constellations? Whatever the case may be, archaeologists, scientists, history buffs and travelers head there on their way to (or back from) Machu Picchu.

The Nazca lines consist of spiders, dogs, monkeys and other animals.

5. Peru's Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake and South America's largest lake.

Ascending even higher into the clouds at more than 12,000 feet above sea level is Lake Titicaca, considered to be the birthplace of the world, where the god Con Tiqui Viracocha created mankind, as well as the sun, moon and stars to light the way. On our tour, you'll meet direct descendants of the Incan people, enjoy their traditional dances and eat some wonderful home-cooked cuisine.

The Uros live on self-fashioned floating islands in Lake Titicaca.

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4 Top Movies Set in India

With Oscar season having just finished, there's still a buzz of the latest and best movies -- many which have been filmed in India. Because of the country's famed diversity in sceneries, India can set the perfect atmosphere to complement any story. Our World Spree travelers to India may find themselves in a city which hosted a famous film, and where they can often relive those iconic moments. Here’s four blockbuster films that were set in India:

Jaipur - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Starring Dame Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, the color of the historic city of Jaipur was the backdrop of this 2011 British comedy-drama film. You too can hurtle round the streets on a tuk tuk, sample the street food and see the spectacular Palace of the Winds. The Royal Castle Kanota was the location for the Viceroy Club where you can enjoy a cocktail or two, and the Ravla Khempur is the actual hotel in Jaipur where the Marigold Hotel was set.

Hawa Mahal - The Palace of the Winds

Mumbai - Slumdog Millionaire

Who could forget the sight of the kids from Slumdog Millionaire when it won an Oscar for best movie? This was filmed mainly in Mumbai, and even today, travelers on our tour can spend time on a visit to Dharavi to see the community. There’s the big laundry at Dhobi Ghat and a variety of people at work in Asia’s biggest slum. Another location that starred in Slumdog Millionaire is Agra and the Taj Mahal. Although you won’t see Dev Patel trying to be your tour guide, you will spend time at one of the most magnificent places in India.

Dhobi Ghat - Mumbai's Laundry Slum

Udaipur - Octopussy

With its breathtaking scenery, it's no surprise that the glamour and fast pace of James Bond depicted in this classic film greatly showcased Udaipur as a tourist hotspot. Bond stayed in the elegant Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel on the waterfront which has fabulous lake views, and Octopussy’s home was the Taj Lake Palace which is now a hotel. The Monsoon Palace was also used in this famous movie. Bond fans can sail acrossthe lake and relive a movie moment or simply enjoy the beautiful scenery in this part of Rajasthan.

The Taj Lake Palace Hotel

Bangalore and Srinagar - A Passage to India

Set in the 1920s against a growing demand for Indian independence, David Lean’s 1984 drama film received eleven nominations at the Academy Awards. The places featured in this film included the Caves at Savandgura and Ramadevarabetta near Bangalore, and at the end of the film when Dr. Aziz moves to Kashmir, the movie features the beautiful city of Srinagar in the Himalayas. Other locations included Udhagamandalam or Ooty in Tamil Nadu.

Colorful Gopuram in the Hindu Jambukeswarar Temple

During your visit to India, you are highly likely to see the magical variety of scenes and culture unfold, but to walk along the same footsteps of famous actors is quite the amazing experience too! Watch the video below to discover more Oscar-winning reasons to spend a vacation in India.


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Posted by: WS
Add Peru to Your Bucket List!

If the reason you enjoy ‪‎travel‬ is to spy thrilling landscapes, explore ancient civilizations and experience a culture unlike your own, put Peru‬ at the top of your bucket list.

Stretching from the Pacific Coast, up to the high peaks of the Andes, Peru is a magical destination offering an enticing cocktail of history, culture, cuisine and wildlife.

We now offer perfectly paced, all-inclusive tours through the Land of the Incas for 12 or 15 days, starting at just $3,299 and including round trip airfare, ground transportation, award-winning hotel accommodations, meals and sightseeing galore!

You'll start in Lima, Peru's vibrant capital and culinary hot spot, with its historic Spanish colonial heart and rapidly growing modern suburbs. Travel high into the heartland of the Incan Empire to the Sacred Valley, where you'll explore ancient ruins and visit bustling markets to gain an insight into local life. You'll continue by train to the undoubted highlight nestled beneath mountain peaks and surrounded by verdant cloud forest, the sacred city of Machu Picchu.

You'll explore Cusco, the Inca capital plundered by the Spanish Conquest and rebuilt with European flavor, filled with triumphs of archaeology, architecture and art. And finally, you'll visit the remarkable Lake Titicaca, higher than 12,000 feet above sea level and the world's highest navigable freshwater lake. You'll enjoy building connections with the people of Uros Islands, the unusual floating reed villages on Lake Titicaca.

All of this and more await you!

Don't miss a chance to enjoy this trip of a lifetime. Book your Peru adventure for 2016 here!


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How to Survive Holi in India

Ever seen thousands of revelers dyed head to toe in a rainbow of wild colors? At the Holi festival, locals and tourists alike gather to join the dancing, music, scents and throngs of others who promise to deliver a spectacle you don't want to miss. It's a Hindu festival where the party starts on the evening with bonfires, music and dancing, before the big day of a cultural, colorful phenomenon. As you can imagine, it can get messy and wild in the streets can be somewhat chaotic! Here’s a short guide on how to survive.

Be prepared to join in

Expect to see paint and water being thrown around in the streets. If this isn't for you, relax indoors (chances are though, you may get some dry powder smeared on you)! Do not wear your favorite shirt, because all this fun may wreck your clothes.

Stay safe

There’s no doubt that Holi attracts the crowds. If you are going out to see the festivities, make sure you don’t have valuables with you. Avoid wearing jewelry and keep a small amount of money on you in a concealed place. Although most people are generally honest and helpful, there is a minority who takes advantage of the crowds. Women on their own should take extra care when walking out in the streets and should dress respectably. They should also be aware of their surroundings at all times and avoid unlit streets.

Make the most of the occasion

Photographers will find that the colors adds a dimension to images taken. So, find a vantage point and watch the festivities from a balcony or doorway where you can avoid the mess but still get some great photo shots. Your hotel will be able to advise some of the best places to watch the party without getting messed up. After the spectacle, the crowds get cleaned up at home and return to the streets in the evening to greet neighbors and offer sweets.

The chance to see so much color and laughter in the streets is unique, so join in with a smile! After all, where else in the world can you throw paint at someone and get away with it? There's no better way to commemorate a milestone birthday, graduation or anniversary than with this unforgettable experience that fills your soul without emptying your pockets. Book your 2017 adventure here!

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A Simple Introduction to Vietnam’s Culture and Customs

Vietnam's magnificent landscapes, scenic waterways and rich multicultural heritage have made it one of Asia's most rewarding travel destinations. Because a Vietnam vacation lets you travel through one of the richest and oldest cultures in the world, it’s always a good idea to take a little time to better understand this nation before your trip so that you get the most from it. Here’s what you really need to know about Vietnam:

Mỹ Đức is a district of Hanoi in the Red River Delta region of Vietnam.

No Resentment

Some Americans are worried that if they travel to Vietnam, they will be treated badly due to the impact of the Vietnam War. You need not to worry; you won’t encounter any hostility whatsoever on your Vietnam vacation. The truth is that the Vietnamese army were victorious, and the Vietnamese are keen to leave history behind and embrace a modern future. You are likely to encounter curiosity and excitement upon people learning you are an American on your Vietnam tour.

World Spree traveler Kenneth W from Ohio shares: 

"This was probably the best tour I have been on. I am a Vietnam Veteran, so this trip had special significance for me. It has been 45 years and 2 generations. I am glad to have made the trip as Vietnam is an entirely different country today. There is no evidence of the war. Most of the people were born later and have no memory of the war. They are very friendly, speak English, and like Americans."

Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon, Vietnam

Confucian Basis

Vietnam’s culture is firmly grounded in Confucianism, a very strict definition of societal obligations. While everywhere on your trip you will find people of different religions, it is Confucian thought that binds them together. This includes a healthy dose of respect for older people who should be treated with great kindness and respect, and an expectation that younger people will do as they are told when asked to do something by an elder person.

Forward Looking

While Laos and Cambodia, even Thailand and Myanmar, to some extent are predominantly Buddhist nations with a relaxed pace of life, Vietnam is a hot bed of activity. The Vietnamese can see the modern world around them and are looking to become a part of that world as fast as possible. Young Vietnamese zip from place to place in a flurry of entrepreneurial activity, and there is much more similarity with a rising China than they might like to admit to.  This does not mean that Vietnamese people have abandoned their own value system -- underneath the speedy exterior lurks a kind, honest people who deeply value visitors to their nation and want to make them as welcome as possible.

While English is not common outside of tourist areas, this should not deter you from exploring on your Vietnam vacation. You will find that wherever you travel, people will go out of their way to help -- after all, sign language is universal!

vietnam local culture

Face Culture

Vietnam is also a nation with a “face culture”, and while learning all the complexities of giving and taking away someone’s “face” would take a lifetime, there are some simple rules to help get on with your hosts:

  • Never raise your voice, lose your temper or become aggressive; conduct yourself quietly and with a smile no matter how frustrating a situation is.
  • Do not be too effusive with praise as this can be embarrassing. If you have enjoyed something that someone has done for you, a thank you and small praise will be gratefully accepted. In some cases, the person may appear to mock your thanks – this is due to embarrassment and not because it is not appreciated.

world spree amazing vietnam testimonial

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What You Didn't Know About Thailand

Exotic and colorful, Thailand is a destination that really offers it all – ancient ruins, a rich culture, lush scenery, fragrant cuisine, vibrant Bangkok, beautiful beaches and friendly and fun locals who offer a warm welcome to visitors. It's America's favorite Asian destination, and indeed, you are guaranteed to have the vacation of a lifetime in this enticing country! Here are a few awesome facts about Thailand you probably didn't know:

1. The smallest mammal in the world lives in Thailand. Also known as the "bumblebee bat", the Kitti's hog-nosed bat is only 30mm in length, and it weighs 1.7 - 2.0 g.

2. The Guinness Book of Records has certified Bangkok to have the longest name of a city in the world! It is pronounced as:

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

Did you try to pronounce it? Given its actual length, it's not hard to see why Bangkok is shortened in its every day use. The full name itself is never actually used, though it can be seen on a few signs around Bangkok as part of a tourist campaign. The full name translates to a string of superlatives, which give some idea of how fond King Rama I must have been of his new city:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

3. Thailand has 32 vowels and 44 consonants to master! If you're thinking about learning the language during your trip, think again. Cambodia has even more vowels to learn.

Thailand language

4. Thailand is also the world’s biggest producer and exporter of orchids. It’s estimated that there are more than 1,500 species of orchids to be found in the wild. If you travel through the forests of Thailand’s national parks, you may be lucky enough to encounter 100-200 species of orchid yourself.

Thailand orchids

5. The most expensive birds nests in the world can be found in Thailand too. They are the nest of the swiftlet and are constructed entirely from… saliva! The male walet works tirelessly during a thirty-five-day period of the breeding season to build their nests entirely from saliva. The glue-like saliva is woven like fiberglass by the birds into small cup-like nests, which dry to be thin and translucent. The Chinese use these nests in Bird’s Nest soup and at $1,000/pound, that makes them incredibly valuable!

Bird's Nest Soup China

6. There are 5,000 elephants in Thailand. It is the sacred animal of the nation and you are sure to have some fun with these majestic creatures on your vacation. However, the numbers are nothing to celebrate if you’d taken your tour of Thailand a century ago – there were more than 100,000 elephants to be found then!

Elephants in Chiang Mai Thailand

7. The popular 1951 musical about an English schoolteacher’s tutoring of a nineteenth-century Thai king, The King and I, is banned in Thailand. It is considered to be deeply disrespectful to the Royal Family of the nation because it shows the king to be an uncultured man, when the truth was that he was the first royal in Asia to be fluent in English and was one of the best educated men of his time.

King and I Thailand Broadway

8. The most expensive wedding of cats was conducted in Thailand when two cats were married in a ceremony costing nearly $28,000!

Cat wedding Thailand

9. Thailand has the world’s largest golden Buddha, housed in the Wat Traimit in Bangkok. It weighs a staggering 5.5 metric tones and stands an impressive 3 meters tall. At current gold prices of $1500 an oz, it weighs around 200,000 oz of gold and would cost in precious metal alone at least $300 million!

thailand gold buddha statue

 10. Thailand is one of the world’s most tolerant nations and it is famous for its "Katoeys" (ladyboys) who are completely accepted in society.

ladyboys thailand


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Chinese New Year in Bangkok, Thailand

Travel in Thailand is always exhilarating. If your Thailand tour stops in Bangkok during Chinese New Year, you'll easily be adding a little more excitement to your vacation! Unlike China, most attractions in this destination don't close, which makes it convenient for foreign visitors to really observe and take part in the local culture during Chinese New Year. Below are a few interesting facts about how the celebration is handled in Thailand.

Preventing the Nien

The Thai people have a name for the evil spirit that comes to mess up the New Year. Called the "Nien", this spirit is rumored to enter the home and ruin everything in the household. To stop this from happening, the people perform a ritual which includes food and loud noise. They start by placing food on the doorstep, so that the spirit's hunger can be satisfied and can travel to someone else's home instead. If that doesn't stop the spirit, they paint the house red and set off fireworks, as the "Nien" is very much afraid of fire.

Lengnoeyi Temple

On New Year’s Day, everyone in Chinatown will visit the Lengnoeiyi Temple, and surrounding the area will be the spectacle of dragon dancing parades. Upon entrance into the temple, you will witness the gathering of one of the largest Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. You're welcome to join the prayer ceremonies as long as you're dressed and act respectfully. As you pick up a Chinese fortune stick and give it a shake, ask for guidance in your life before the gods.

A Note of Caution

You will read in many guidebooks that it is incredibly lucky to wear a red shirt on Chinese New Year’s Day in Thailand. Unfortunately, the situation in Thailand has changed and wearing a red shirt is now a sign of political affiliation. You don’t want to spend your vacation being chased by angry yellow shirts (the opposite faction), so it’s probably best not to wear red at all at any point during your Thailand trip. This won’t stop the Chinese from turning out in red, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

There are more unlucky things to do in Thailand during the time of the New Year, and while you may not believe in them, it’s probably best to avoid doing any of them. These include: using any sharp objects (yes, that includes knives so don’t order a steak for dinner on the day), doing work (including housework) of any kind, talking about death, sickness or any other kind of bad luck. Another strange thing not to do?  Wash your hair!

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Why You Should Pack Your Bags & Head to Bali

We certainly don't need any convincing to visit the Indonesian paradise of Bali, but in case you do, here are our top eight reasons to experience the Island of the Gods.

Friendly and Welcoming People

With branded hospitality, you can expect to collect many memories – a highlight being the warm and genuine smiles that greet you everywhere. In Bali, no tourist demand is too demanding, and service with a smile is a standard. So, those mundane tasks of life you need to get done? They do it with an overall sense of joy.

Rich Culture of Religion

Spirituality and community is integral to the Balinese culture, to the point where you'll see more temples than homes. Few visitors fail to be enchanted by it, and while it's almost impossible to visit all 20,000 temples, you must visit the most iconic ones. An undoubted highlight is the Tampak Siring Temple, a temple fed by local springs, where you can take part in a traditional purification ceremony in the spot used by Balinese for over a thousand years for good health and prosperity.


Ever dreamed of turning into a millionaire overnight? With the strength of the American dollar ($1USD~10,000IDR), retail therapy has never felt this good.

Show-stopping Natural Beauty

From picturesque rice terraces; active volcanoes; spectacular crater lakes, caves, lush forests; stunning sunsets and the most beautiful beaches, Bali embodies the sun, sand and surf getaway you've been daydreaming of.

World-Class Spas

Immerse yourself in total relaxation and personal indulgence with ancient island rituals, indigenous ingredients and healing techniques. Bali is an oasis of tranquility, and a treatment done by the Alaya Ubud or Melia Bali will leave you refreshed and reinvigorated. In Bali, pampering is art perfected.

Award-Winning Cuisine

If you're the ultimate foodie, you'll want to try Bali's bucketlist-worthy cuisine. From lawar (chopped coconut, garlic, chilli, with pork or chicken), Bebek betutu (duck stuffed with spices wrapped in banana leaves and coconut husks cooked in a pit of embers), to barbecued seafood on the beach, it's a tantalizingly fusion of various countries.

Taste the World's Most Unique (and Expensive) Coffee

How much do you spend on your daily dose of caffeine to get you through the week? Well, one thing you can brag to your friends is to say you've had a sip of Civet Coffee, otherwise known as Kopi Luwak. You can go on a special visit to a coffee plantation to learn about the cultivation process that involves a wild cat called the Asian Palm Civet.

Bucket-list Adventures

Whether it's island hopping, trekking, doing water sports or going on a safari, Bali is the perfect place to release your inhibitions for the adventure of a lifetime.

So if you've been saving up for a luxurious escapade, wanting to relax with some friends in the ultimate paradise, or simply want to go on a mesmerizing getaway, Bali is the ultimate travel destination and more.

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Go on a Tiger Safari in India

With a new movie version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book on the way, there has never been a better time to see tigers in the wild, with an undoubted highlight of our India tours being a tiger spotting! Whilst spotting the elusive Royal Bengal tiger in the wild is never guaranteed, if you have been enchanted by Shere Khan, you need to head to the Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan, India.

Close to Delhi, Ranthambhore is one of the best places to see these majestic creatures in their natural environment. During the age of the Rajas, the park served as a favorite hunting ground and escape from palace life for the ruling Jaipur family. Now a key part of Project Tiger, this vast and renowned reserve has won international acclaim for its role in the preservation and protection of tigers.

Visitors to this park will be in awe of the stunning habitat to a variety of native wildlife including leopards, deer, hyenas, sloth bears and different bird species. With the search assisted by an expert naturalist who knows the animals' habitats, you can go on an adventure and look for fresh pug marks and listen for distress calls from other animals.

There are only around 50 tigers in the Ranthambhore National Park, and each one has its own territory it roams. Because these creatures are by nature, shy, solitary hunters, sightings -- whilst common -- require patience and is never guaranteed. But when you do see it, it will be a magical moment that will be remembered for the rest of your life!

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Amritsar - The Shimmering Symbol of Sikhism

Amritsar, the Golden City of north India, is located in the state of Punjab, just east of the border with Pakistan, and south of Jammu and Kashmir. Its name means "holy pool of nectar", inspired from the pool of water that surrounds the famous Golden Temple.

It is frequented by devotees, international tourists and the Sikh diaspora from around the world. With an annual footfall that is three times that of the Taj Mahal and an estimated 80 lakh visitors for this year alone, this city is where the serene and scared collide.

Founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Ram Das, Amritsar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the spectacular Golden Temple, one of India’s most humbling sights. Floating at the end of a long causeway, the Golden Temple itself is a mesmerizing blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, with an elegant marble lower level adorned with flower and animal motifs in pietra dura work (as seen on the Taj Mahal).

Spiritually, the focus of attention is the tank that surrounds the gleaming central shrine – the Amrit Sarovar. Ringed by a marble walkway, the tank is said to have healing powers, and pilgrims come from across the world to bathe in the sacred waters. Inside, you will see a gigantic open kitchen run by volunteers who feed over 10,000 people each day, a true testament of selfless giving.

Click here to find out how you can reward yourself with a well-rounded cultural experience in Amritsar following your Incredible India tour.

Golden Temple

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Make Travel a Part of your New Year

‪‎Global travel shouldn't be a luxury but an essential, like water or air, vital for self-discovery, the soul and connection with cultures and people.

That's our philosophy and exactly why we offer affordable tours blending outdoor global adventure, rare interactions with locals and forays into out-of-the-way places seldom frequented by tourists. You don't need wads of cash or weeks of vacation banked up to experience new cultures or revisit your roots: Our moderately priced getaways offer once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities.

If your image of group travel is herds of people on outsized buses, touristy attractions, standard-issue hotels where you can't tell if you're in Orlando or Lima, forgettable food and mandatory shopping stops, our bespoke approach will shift your thinking.

Unlike most tour companies, we sell directly to travelers rather than through travel agents, which means that we place carefully trained experts to serve as travel guides in every destination. With low overhead and a lean profit margin, our resources go toward the quality of the tours we offer.

Do lunch and more in Southeast Asia

Beach lovers with a sense of adventure can expand their awareness while sinking their toes into the sand at a sparkling beach on Phuket, off Thailand's coast, where startlingly clear water calms the mind and restores the spirit. Or explore the charming enclave of the Nusa Dua peninsula in Bali, where you can plunge into a rich, diverse marine underworld dotted with gorgeous coral reefs as part of a scuba diving adventure.

Learn about culture and history as you sample Southeast Asian cuisine in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos. Try com hen, rice with baby clams, or bite into a banana-leaf-wrapped rice dumpling stuffed with pork and shrimp in the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hue. Located on the bank of the Song Huong, or Perfume River, Hue is one stop on a tour that offers a fascinating window into the country's imperial past. Watch the sun sink over floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia's "great lake." In Luang Prabang, Laos, gather with locals at sunrise as they offer alms to monks in peaceful silence, a stately tradition dating back eight centuries.

Do it up big without spending big money

India's exuberant Holi, the Festival of Colors, marked by the bright decoration of participants' skin and hair, celebrates the triumph of good over evil. If South America's ancient history and exotic wildlife beckon, visit Peru's Colca Canyon, descending over 10,000 feet into the earth, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and home to pre-Inca and Inca traditions. Condors, sacred in Inca civilizations, soar above, symbolizing the increased consciousness and perception you'll gain through travel.

Make travel a part of your new year

The hard part? Choosing one of these exotic destinations. In 2016, commemorate a milestone birthday, graduation or anniversary with an unforgettable expedition that fills your soul without emptying your pockets. For more information about travel options and tours, click on our Tour Packages above.

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Last Chance to Win $500 Cash!

‪‎Photography‬ is not about the camera. It’s not even about the beautiful images we create. It's about telling powerful stories. It's a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share.

You're unlikely to long remember the smell and buzz of Shanghai's streets, the awe of gazing for the first time at temples of Angkor, the caress of a tropical breeze in Bali, the thrill of a rickshaw ride through New Delhi, or the adrenaline of hiking the Great Wall. Your photographs bring these and other sensations back, to trigger memories, and to communicate how you felt to others.

It's really about unique moments in life that will never be created. Why keep them to yourself? Instead, share those magical moments with us and your fellow travelers.

If you joined us on a recent trip, you can share your videos, images or travel journal with us and easily be in the running to win $500 by entering our 2015 Photo Contest. You have until Thursday, December 31st 2015 to send entries to or post them on our Facebook page. Looking forward to seeing what magical moments you experienced!

* Check out the 2014 winners here *

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The Taj Mahal - The Jewel of Muslim Art in India

India is a dynamic and diverse country and we offer tours with unbeatable value to this exciting destination. This nation offers enormous and busy cities, national parks and wildlife, rural villages and historic monuments, mountains and rivers, and delicious cuisine known all over the world.

Perhaps the most well-known pride of India is the incomparable UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal, which sits on the picturesque south bank of the Yumana River.

Taj Mahal means “crown of palaces” in Persian and in Arabic. It is a white marble mausoleum built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for Mumtaz Mahal, his favorite wife. She died while giving birth to their 14th child.

Work started on the Taj Mahal in 1632 and was completed in 1643; even after it was completed, work continued on the project for at least another ten years. About 20,000 artisans worked during all of these years to create this magnificent domed marble tomb surrounded by gardens and a wall on three sides.

Built in the Persian and earlier Mughal architectural styles, one major difference between the Taj Mahal and other Mughal structures is the material that was chosen when construction began. Most Mughal buildings were made with red sandstone while Shah Jahan chose white marble for this special tomb.

Capped by its iconic dome and finial, the base of the tomb consists of many chambers put together in the shape of an eight-sided cube. The arched doorway is called an “iwan.” With four similar iwans on either side of the larger main iwan, the building is indeed, completely symmetrical.

The dome is probably the most breathtaking part of the building. It is 115 feet, nearly the exact length of the base of the tomb, and sits on top of a cylindrical drum with is 23 feet high. The exterior of the building is decorated with stucco, carvings, stone inlays and paint, with themes based on calligraphy, abstract forms and plants in keeping with Islamic law. There are many quotes from the Qur’an throughout the building, and calligraphy is further embellished with black marble or jasper inlaid on white marble panels. The interior room is in the shape of an octagon and can be entered from each of the four sides of the tomb, and the walls are inlaid with precious and semiprecious gemstones. Inside the building are the false tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, as their real graves are located at a lower level.

So when in India, don’t skip Agra; when in Agra, don’t skip the Taj Mahal!

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Tours to Vietnam are becoming more and more popular because there are so many things to do and see in Vietnam. It is not an expensive place to visit, so there are many affordable tours from which to choose.

People like to visit Vietnam for many different reasons. Some choose to visit the big cities like Ho Chi Minh City, still known as Saigon to the inhabitants; or Hanoi, the country’s capital. Some people enjoy the beaches, the natural beauty, the Mekong Delta, and historic cities like Hue and Hoi An.

The Cuisine of Vietnam

No matter what your reason is for visiting Vietnam, and no matter where you find yourself during your tour, you are going to need to eat. And the cuisine of Vietnam is delicious and full of variety and maybe even some surprises.

Vietnamese cuisine is known for its fresh ingredients, its use of herbs and vegetables, and its minimal use of oil. It is also known for its many herbs and spices: these include things like basil, bird’s eye chili, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, mint, and lemongrass. Other ingredients are fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, and, of course, rice!

There are many ways in which Vietnamese dishes are prepared. Some of these are battered then deep fried, boiled, braised, dry pan fried, dry pan roasted, fried, grilled, pan seared, simmered, steamed, stewed, and stir fried.

A typical Vietnamese family meal would include some of the following: rice; meat, fish, seafood, or tofu; vegetables that are either fresh, steamed, or pickled; one of the many different kinds of Vietnamese soup dishes; a stir fried dish; dipping sauces; pickled relishes; and fruit for dessert. Everyone has their own bowl of rice, and then the other dishes are placed in the middle of the table and shared among all the family members.

Pho is one of the most popular and well-known Vietnamese dishes. This is a noodle soup made from a clear meat broth along with either beef or chicken, spring onion, bean sprouts, and different kinds of fresh herbs.

Bun Rieu is another noodle soup. This one is made with thin rice noodles served in a tomato-based broth along with bean sprouts, fresh herbs, shrimp paste, tofu, and tamarind. Other soups without noodles include dishes like sour soup with bean sprouts, fish, herbs, pineapple, tamarind, and tomatoes; asparagus and crab soup; and rice porridge with meat.

As you might expect, rice dishes abound in Vietnam. Some rice dishes come from the Chinese region of Yangzhou. In the historic city of Hue, rice with clams is a popular dish. Bo luc lac is a rice dish made with beef, cucumbers, onions, pepper, soy sauce, and tomatoes. Sticky rice is served with coconut milk and is sweet and tasty.

Steamed bun dumplings are popular: they can be filled with pork, quail eggs, onions, mushrooms, or vegetables. Rice dumplings are stuffed with pork and shrimp in Hue. They are wrapped and served in a banana leaf.

Other dishes include spring rolls and summer rolls; French-inspired sandwiches filled with meat, cucumber, pickled carrot, pickled daikon, and jalapenos; papaya salad, lotus stem salad, water spinach salad, and tofu salad; various kinds of curries; and lots of pickled vegetable dishes.

So bring an empty stomach and try some of the tasty treats that await you during your tour of Vietnam!

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Sukhothai - The First Kingdom of Thailand

Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia because of its beaches, mountains, coral reefs, islands, big cities, arts and crafts, tasty Thai food, and its warm and friendly people.

Thailand is also full of history. It was a powerful kingdom known as Siam and there are many things today that tourists can visit to get a sense of this grandeur and might.

There are many tours to Thailand and some of these can be quite affordable. Most tours begin in Bangkok, the largest city in Thailand and its capital. People often visit Bangkok and then move on to Chiang Mai in the north, while other people head south to Phuket and Krabi for the sunshine and sandy beaches.

For people interested in understanding the history of Thailand, a visit to Sukhothai is a must. Sukhothai was the first kingdom of Siam, or Thailand. It is located about halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Sukhothai means “The Dawn of Happiness” in the Thai language. It was founded in the 13th century on the edge of the great Khmer Empire. Phokhun Si Intharathit was responsible for defeating the Khmer army so that the city and the first independent Siamese kingdom could be established. During its golden age, its third king, King Ramkhamhaeng, created the Thai alphabet which was based on the Khmer alphabet. This Thai alphabet is still in use today.

Sukhothai is the name of a province, a city, and the former kingdom which lasted for 120 years. The modern city is a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to the ancient city of Sukhothai which is now the Sukhothai Historical Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The park is home to many temples, royal palaces, city gates and walls, and a restored water system that consists of canals, dams, ditches, dykes, lakes, moats, and ponds. Some of the structures sit on islands and can be reached by bridges.

There are several reasons why the Sukhothai Historical Park is so popular. First, it has been well restored. Second it is well maintained and is very clean. Third there are vendors to help make your visit enjoyable, but, at the same time, there are not many touts.

It’s best to see the ruins first thing in the morning before the temperature rises. It can be visited on foot, although it’s a fairly large park: many people rent bicycles outside the main entrance and this is a pleasant way to visit the park.

The park is made up of several different zones. The Central Zone has 11 ruins surrounded by moats and lakes. There are some bridges that lead to ruins that are located on islands. In this zone you will find Wat Mahathat. A “wat” is a temple, and this wat is one of the best in the park. There is a large statue of Buddha sitting between pillars in Wat Mahathat. There is also a chedi, or stupa, with two standing Buddhas, one on each side of the chedi.

Also in the Central Zone is Wat Sra Sri. This wat has a Buddha statue and a large chedi, and is reached by walking across a bridge to the island where the temple is located.

The Wat Sri Chum is the star of the North Zone. An enormous statue of Buddha sits in this temple. The other wat in this zone is Wat Phra Phai Luang with its stucco reliefs.

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Shenyang - Capital of Liaoning Province

China is a huge and interesting place to visit: there are so many things to see and do that it is no surprise that it is such a popular tourist destination and tours to China can be very affordable.

Most tours include visits to Beijing with its Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China; Shanghai, the largest port in the world and the largest city in China; and Xian, the home of the famous Army of the Terracotta Warriors.

Some people enjoy a cruise on the Yangtze River with its Three Gorges or a visit to the western area of China with its places of natural beauty, like the Stone Forest, or Shilin, in the Yunnan Province not far from the city of Kunming.

Northeast China is also an interesting place to visit. Sometimes referred to as Manchuria, this part of China consists of three regions; Heilongjiang with its Russian architecture and winter time festivals; Jilin with its nature preserves and winter resorts; and Liaoning, a coastal province that borders North Korea.

To the north of Liaoning is Inner Mongolia and to the west is the province of Hebei and China’s capital city of Beijing. There is an area along the southern coast of Liaoning Province that forms a peninsula that juts out into the Bohai Sea.

Liaoning is interesting for several reasons, and one of these is its ethnic diversity. It is a melting pot of people from the Manchurian countryside: Han Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Russians, and several other cultures.

Shenyang is the name of the city that is the capital of the province of Liaoning. It is the largest city in northeast China and has a long and interesting history.

The great leader Nurhaci built his palace in Shenyang. He was buried in the Fuling Tomb, the first of two imperial tombs of the Qing Dynasty; and his son, Abahai (Huang Taiji) was buried in the second tomb, the Zhaoling Tomb. Nurhaci’s palace and these two tombs have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The city also played an important role in early 20th century world history. It was here that the Japanese army defeated the Russian army in 1905; and it was here that a war between China and Japan in 1931 resulted in the Japanese occupation of all of northeast China.

When you visit Shenyang, the first thing you must see is the Mukden Palace, built for Nurhaci in 1625. Built in the distinctive Manchurian style, the palace sights include the Chongzhen, or Golden Chimes; the Dazheng Hall, or Grand Politics Hall; the Phoenix Chamber; the Qingning Pavilion, or Pure Tranquility Pavilion; and the Ten Princes’ Pavilion.

Although not as large as its cousin in Beijing, there are many details like handcrafted carving and painting that are finer here at the Mukden Palace. The scrollwork and the columns encircled by dragons make the Chongzheng Hall throne room a must see at this palace. There are imperial processions in the palace on Saturday afternoons during the summer.

The Fuling Tomb dates from the early 17th century and, like the imperial palace, is built in the Manchurian style. The large Dongling Park lies to the east of this tomb. The Zhaoling Tomb is a mixture of Manchurian and Chinese architecture and took eight years to construct. Around it lies a large area of forest and lakes.

As it is not too far from Beijing, take a side trip to the city of Shenyang in the province of Liaoning during your tour of China!

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Lovely Lovina - Gem of Bali’s North Coast

There are many affordable tours to Bali: it is an exotic tourist destination and it is not an expensive place to visit. Bali offers so much for visitors to experience: beaches, green rice paddies, waterfalls, volcanoes, Hindu temples, arts and crafts, delicious food, and friendly smiling local Balinese people.

Most tourists arrive at Bali’s international airport between Kuta and Denpasar, the capital city of Bali. Kuta is famous for its beach, its many hotels, spas, restaurants, and nightlife, and many people come to Bali and stay in Kuta, because these are the things that they enjoy during their holiday.

Other people avoid Kuta, or spend a short time there, and then venture out to other places on this interesting island. Many people head to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali; some head east to see temples, mountains, and scuba diving sites; some people venture to the west coast to see the famous temple at Tanah Lot; and some go towards Mount Batur and its crater lake, Lake Batur.

If you are looking for a quiet place to relax and unwind, the north coast of Bali is the place for you!  The north coast of Bali is as different from the south area as night from day.

Lovina is a quiet town along the north coast of Bali. It’s actually a string of seven traditional villages all laid out along the sea: they are Anturan, Banyualit, Kaliasem, Kalibukuk, Pemaron, Temukus, and Tukad Mungga. The Lovina area is popular because of its black sand beaches, inexpensive accommodations, good food, and helpful local people.

Compared to other places on Bali, Lovina is a newcomer to the scene. It began in the 1950s when the late king had an idea to bring tourism to the north coast. King Anak Agnug Panji Tisna built a lodge on some land that he owned and Lovina was born. He had to convince the local people that this was a good idea, but they eventually saw the benefits of his plans.

Of the seven villages, Kalibukuk is considered the town center of Lovina. There are magnificent Balinese gates that stand on either side of the roads that greet visitors to the north coast. In Kalibukuk you will find plenty of hotels and restaurants along with ATMs and Western style convenience shops.

Food here is about a third of the cost of what you find in the southern area of Bali. In Lovina you will have your choice of very simple and inexpensive accommodations up to reasonably priced three star resorts complete with pools.

One of the best things about the north coast is that swimming is much safer here than on the south coast. In contrast to the crashing surf of the south, the waves on the north coast are gentle. This makes it an ideal place for families to spend time. The water is quite clean here despite the fact that the black sand makes it look dark.

In addition to swimming and sunbathing, there are many opportunities to snorkel and scuba dive on the nearby coral reefs. Fishing and dolphin watching are also fun things to do in Lovina.

If you want a break from the beach you can always visit the nearby Brahma Vihara Arama in nearby Dencarik. It is the largest Buddhist monastery on the island. Other things include the Banjar Hot Springs, canyoning, and a visit to one of the many spas.

Lovina is the place to go for peace and quiet during your tour of Bali!

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Fun Festivals in Laos

Laos is a fun place to visit especially if you are there during one of the many festivals that occur every year. Laos is not an expensive place to visit, so there are many affordable tours to this unique country in Southeast Asia.

Most people begin their tour of Laos in Vientiane, the country’s largest city and its capital. Luang Prabang, the former capital city in the northern area of the country, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very popular tourist destination. Other places to visit in Laos include the Plain of Jars, Vang Vieng, Pakse, Savannakhet, and the hill tribe area around Luang Namtha.

Laos is a predominantly Buddhist country, so many of its festivals are focused on the Buddhist lunar calendar. Festivals often occur around the full moon of certain months each year.

Vixakha Bouxa is a festival that falls around the month of May each year. It is sometimes called “Buddha’s Birthday,” and the focus is on the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. During this festival in Laos there many kinds of celebrations like dances, meditation, parades, poems, processions, puppet shows, and theatrical performances.

One special part of Vixakha Bouxa is called Boun Bang Fay. This means “Rocket Festival” and is a lot of fun for the people of Laos. Originally the rockets were made by Buddhist monks who filled hollow pieces of bamboo with gunpowder. The purpose of the rockets was, and still is, to send a message to the sky to send down much needed rain for a good rice harvest.

Today the festival is more of a fireworks competition to see who has the biggest, fastest, and most colorful fireworks. It is held along the Mekong River, so there are competitions between the people of Laos and neighboring Thailand. This festival has become so popular that tourists come from many places to enjoy the fun.

Boun Suang Huea is another popular festival held along the Mekong River in Laos. It is a boat racing festival that is also known as Boun Xuang Heua and is associated with Loy Krathong. This festival is held in October at the end of the Buddhist season of Lent to mark the end of the rainy season which runs approximately from April until October or November.

The most exciting boat races are held along the Mekong River near the larger cities like Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Savannakhet, as well as in the province of Champassak and villages along the river.

Since the Mekong River is such an important part of the daily lives of people who live alongside the river, boats are an essential part of life, and these boat races have been held for thousands of years. The river serves as a means of transportation and also a supply for fish, a staple of the Laos diet.

Today the boat races are as much a commercial and sports event as they are a religious festival. Small rafts called “krathongs” are decorated with flowers, candles, and incense and floated out into the river or streams in other parts of the country. Loy Krathong is also celebrated in Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand.

Bun Pha That Luang is a festival that takes place in Vientiane at the national symbol, Pha That Luang. It is the most important religious monument in Laos and this three day festival takes place here in November. Monks and laypeople carry candles and incense as they walk around the monument three times. There are also drama and musical performances.

Check out the festivals during your visit to Laos!

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Highlights of Shwebo

Visitors to Burma rarely visit Shwebo but there’s a lot of interesting things to see here. If you are travelling on an Ayeyarwaddy ferry, jump off at Kyaukmyaung and the town of Shwebo is a short drive away. Here are some of the highlights for visitors to Shwebo.

See Victory Earth

Shwebo has a significant royal history. Between 1752 and 1755 Aung Zeya, the leader of a village called Moksobo, fought off both the Bago –Mon and Manipuri armies. As a result he named himself King Alaungpaya and transformed this small village into a glittering Shwebo. Until his death in 1760 Shwebo was the capital of a unified Burma. Even today people take soil from Shwebo, calling it Victory Earth, for good luck.

Admire the Skyline

Shwebo’s skyline is dazzling thanks to the golden pagoda spires. They surround the Shwe Daza Paya which is 500 years old and there are good view points across town. The Shwebon Yadana is the old royal palace and there are a pair of thrones here painted in gold. They are, however, replicas as the originals were plundered by the British when they invaded in the late 19th century. Around the town there are also sections of the old moat as the palace originally sat in the centre of a walled complex.

Try Thanaka paste

Visitors on cheap tours of Burma will find Thanaka in most towns and cities. These sandalwood logs are used on the skin as a sun block and moisturiser throughout Burma, with the distinctive paste seen on many faces in towns and cities. Shwebo has a reputation for having the sweetest smelling Thanaka paste in the country. This is a great gift for the Burmese and is also the subject of a popular folk song in Burma. Thanaka paste is commonly sold near the temple complex in Shwebo.

Visit Hanlin

As a side trip to Shwebo, Hanlin is an archaeological site worth visiting. Hanlin is a village today and has the remains of an ancient city dating between the 4th and 9th century. This is very interesting to see and is a large site. The village itself is fascinating to explore and the ox cart tracks lead to a plethora of stupas and temples nearby. These make a great destination for a walk here.

Watch out for snakes

Shwebo has a reputation for snakes. It is known for the number of serpents and also for huge cobras. The town is surrounded by farmland but it is not uncommon to see the snakes at temples. Visitors to Burma should be aware of the possibility of snakes when visiting temples and jungle areas, however snakes tend to move away from humans unless they feel threatened.

Shwebo has a lot of interesting things about it and is off the mainstream tourist trail. If you have a sense of adventure and want to see somewhere that most visitors to Burma pass by without a second glance then think about spending some time in Shwebo.

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How to Spend Happy Hour in Burma

When the sightseeing is done for the day and the sun is going down on a scenic view it’s time for a cool cocktail. Many bars in Burma offer happy hour which is a great time for people on tours of Burma to relax and reflect on their experiences. Here’s where to find the best places to spend Happy Hour in Burma.

Strand Hotel, Yangon

The teak panelled splendour of the Strand Hotel bar is a classic place to enjoy a cocktail. It is really busy on a Friday but you can relax in colonial style in this historic location. It is a beautiful location for people on a Burma vacation to come and chill out after a day touring the temples and markets. As you sip a Strand Sour or Dagon beer think back to the days when George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling frequented the bar.

On the Roof at City River Hotel, Mandalay

One of the best bits about sipping a cocktail on the rooftop bar at the Ayeyarwaddy River View Hotel is that you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the Irrawaddy River. As the sun sets this river lights up in golden hues and is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail or two.

Sapphire Bar, Alfa Hotel, Yangon

Another fabulous rooftop bar is at the Alfa Hotel in Rangoon. Take a seat on the roof at the Sapphire Bar and you’ll find a spectacular view of the Shwedagon Pagoda which transforms into many different colours at sunset. Most nights of the week there’s a harpist playing at this increasingly popular bar.

Mandalay Hill

Mandalay Hill is a popular viewpoint to watch the sun go down over the Irrawaddy River and the many temples across the city. Afterwards head downhill to the Mandalay Hill Hotel Resort where a cocktail at the bar is an excellent way to chill out and reflect on the scenery.

Inle Lake

With the setting sun reflecting on the water and the fishing boats heading home enjoying a sundowner on Inle Lake is a magical moment. Relax at the Inle princess Hotel Resort and watch the setting sun with a beer or cocktail in hand in this unique location. You’ll see an aspect of Inle Lake that most visitors on tours of Burma don’t get to see.

At a vineyard

Not exactly happy hour and more like a wine tasting event, a tour of one of the vineyards in Burma is a great place to be as the sun goes down over the vine clad hills. You’ll enjoy scenic views and be able to taste some of the locally produced wines whilst learning about this growing industry in Burma.

Burma is full of beautiful places to sit quietly and watch the sun go down. Combine that with a drink and you’ll relax and unwind after a day of sightseeing. Anyone on a Burma vacation should check out happy hour at least once whilst visiting.

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The Music of Thailand

Thailand is full of exciting and exotic things to see and do: no wonder it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia! There are many tours from which to choose, and some of these are affordable and will fit most people’s budget.

Most tours begin in Bangkok, the huge capital city of Thailand. Many people head north to visit Chiang Mai and other places in the north, while other visitors head south to Phuket to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf at the numerous beaches around the popular island.

No matter what your interests are and no matter where you visit, you will most likely encounter some musical performances in Thailand. One of the things that makes Thai music so special is the result of its geographic location.

Throughout history Thailand has held an important position between the great powers of China and India. It was also on the trade routes that brought influences, including music and musical instruments, from places as far away as Africa, Greece, the Middle East, and Rome.

Some of the traditional musical instruments that are used in Thailand show the importance of the country’s position on the old trade routes. These instruments include the jakhe, a plucked zither that originated in India; the khim, a hammered dulcimer, and the klong thap, a goblet-shaped drum, both of which came from Persia, now Iran; the klong jin, a drum whose origins are Chinese; and the klong kaek, a double-headed barrel drum from Indonesia.

Traditional or classical Thai musical instruments can be divided into four categories based on how they are played: blowing (flutes, horns, jaw harps, mouth organs like the khaen, and oboes), bowing (fiddles), plucking (lutes, zithers, and even pottery jars with rubber bands stretched across their open mouths!), and striking (clappers, cymbals, drums, gongs, hammered dulcimer, and xylophones).

There are two styles of traditional singing in Thailand. The first is called pleng luk thung which means “song of a child of the fields.” These songs are slow and the lyrics tell of the hardships of life in the rural areas of Thailand. This style is sometimes compared to country music in the United States.

The second style is called mor lam which means expert song or expert singer. It is the music that is heard in Laos and the northeastern area of Thailand called Isaan, which is more closely connected with the culture of Laos than that of Thailand. However, because Isaan is the poorest area of Thailand and many people move to other places in Thailand to find work, mor lam music can be heard in many places in Thailand. The mouth organ called khaen is the main instrument used in mor lam music.

Pleng luk thung and mor lam are the two main styles of traditional music in Thailand, but the ethnic minority hill tribe groups like the Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, and Lawa retain their own music traditions.

But traditional music is not the only kind of music you will hear in Thailand. Since the 1930s European music styles like jazz and later rock music became popular in Thailand. The current reigning monarch, King Bhumibol is an accomplished jazz musician: he plays the saxophone and is also a composer.

Today you can hear a huge variety of music in Thailand from traditional rural music to jazz to rock, and even opera in Bangkok. Open your ears and listen to the fascinating music during your tour of Thailand!

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Posted by: WS
The Cuisine of Cambodia

Cambodia is a fascinating country to visit. Because it is not an expensive place, tours to Cambodia can be very affordable.

Angkor Wat is, of course, the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia, and it is the main, and sometimes, only reason that people visit this country in Southeast Asia. But some people choose to explore other places in Cambodia like Phnom Penh, the capital city, Battambang, Sihanoukville, or other more remote yet equally interesting areas.

No matter how long your tour of Cambodia lasts, you will certainly want to try some of its delicious Khmer cuisine. As in most countries in this part of the world, rice is the staple food, and it is eaten by nearly all Cambodians at almost every meal. But there are many ways to serve rice, so Cambodians never get tired of eating it.

First, there are many kinds of rice, and Cambodians can distinguish between the taste of one kind of rice and another. There is aromatic jasmine-scented rice, brown rice, wild rice, and sticky rice which is often eaten as a dessert along with coconut milk and tropical fruit like mango or durian.

Because the mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia, fish is another important part of the Khmer diet. The largest lake in Southeast Asia, Tonle Sap, is located in Cambodia. Some people believe that there are more fish in this lake than in any other lake in the world!

Rice needs a lot of water to grow, so, along with the wet rice fields, the river, and the lake, Cambodia is very much a water-based society. And this is reflected in the food.

For example, somlar kako, a soup that is considered to be the national dish of Cambodia, looks a bit like a pond with its many bright green leaves, vegetables, and reed-like plants. It also contains fish, chicken, or pork. Khmer curries and dipping sauces are very watery, again, reflecting the water-based society and cuisine.

A typical meal consists of several dishes including a soup, or samlor, and other dishes that have contrasting tastes and textures: bitter, salty, sour, or sweet. Chili sauce or other forms of chili like dried, fresh, or pickled are served separately.

Many dishes, including somlar kako, include prahok, which is a fermented fish paste. It is also used in many dipping sauces. This salty ingredient is one thing that distinguishes Khmer cuisine from the cuisine of neighboring countries. Kapi is fermented shrimp paste and is used when prahok is not used.

Some of the other ingredients in Khmer cooking include spices like cardamon, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, galangal, garlic ginger, kaffir lime, Kampot pepper, lemongrass, nutmeg, palm sugar, star anise, and turmeric.

Khmers use many vegetables like baby corn, bamboo shoots, banana blossoms, bitter melon, bok choy, cabbage, Chinese kale, ginger, luffa, mushrooms, snow peas, water spinach, winter melon, and yardlong beans.

In addition to rice, Cambodians love their noodles! These dishes come from China or Vietnam but maintain a distinct Cambodian flavor. Noodle dishes contain meat, vegetables, eggs, and pickled vegetables.

Fruit is plentiful in Cambodia: some of these include banana, coconut, durian, jackfruit, jan fruit, kuy fruit, mango, mangosteen, palmyra fruit, papaya, pineapple, rambutan, romduol, rose apple, sapodilla, star apple, and watermelon.

Bring your appetite for your tour of Cambodia because there are so many tasty things to try!

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Posted by: WS
Sleepy Savannakhet

Laos is a fun place to visit because it offers tourists many things to see and do, yet it remains a quiet and relaxed destination. Because costs here are not high, visiting Laosis not expensive and there are many affordable tours.

The most popular places to visit in Laos are Vientiane, its capital and largest city; and Luang Prabang, its picturesque former capital in the northern part of the country. Other visitors enjoy seeing the Plain of Jars, joining in the outdoor activities in Vang Vieng, or seeing ethnic hill tribes and jungle parks.

With a population of about 120,000 people, Savannakhet is the second largest city in Laos. It is sometimes called “Savan” and sometimes “Kaysone Phomvihane” which is the city’s district name. It is the capital of the Savannakhet Province.

Savannakhet is located in the western part of Laos and sits on the Mekong River. It is a hub between Vientiane to the north, the city of Pakse to the south, and the city and province of Mukdahan, Thailand, to the west, across the Mekong River. The Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridgeover the river opened in 2007 and helps with trade and tourism between the two countries.

Founded during the 17th century, Savannakhet was originally a village called Tahae. One of the famous sights in the city, Wat Xayaphoum dates from about this time. Located in the center of the town, this wat, or temple, sits along the banks of the Mekong River. It is both a temple and a school for young monks, and several important Laotian celebrations are held here every year.

One thing about Savannakhet that sometimes surprises visitors is the French colonial architecture that adds to the sleepy atmosphere. Laos was a part of the French colony called Indochina: they used the Mekong River for transportation and built a road that connected this area with Vietnam. Chinese and Vietnamese people began to move here, so today there are still areas of the city where these groups live, as well as areas where the old French buildings are still standing.

Savannakhet is not a huge city, so it’s easy to explore on foot or by bicycle. Popular places to visit include the riverside area along the Mekong River, and the “Plaza” which is the central square of the city. Many of the old French colonial buildings are located around the Catholic Church and the Plaza. There is also a Chinese Buddhist temple, a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, and a mosque in Savannakhet.

In addition to Wat Xayaphoum, there is another important religious structure. Dating from about the same time as the Wat Xayaphoum, That Ing Hang Stupa, is one of the most sacred stupas in Laos. A stupa contains Buddhist relics, and this stupa is visited every year in December by many Buddhists for an annual ceremony called “Boun Pha.”

After dinosaur bones were found in the nearby Xonbouly District, the Dinosaur Museum was built in Savannakhet. Here there are exhibits of several kinds of dinosaur bones, which the Laos called “big lizard bones” in their language.

Another popular things to do while visiting Savannakhet is eco-trekking. There are tours to nearby preserved jungles and places of interest like nearby Champhone.

If you are looking for a sleepy relaxing little city in Southeast Asia, Savannakhet is the place to check out during your tour of Laos!

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Posted by: WS
Nha Trang - Resort Town

Over the past years Vietnam has made great strides in its attempts to become a popular tourist destination, and it has done a great job. Today there is a huge variety of tours to Vietnam and many of these are affordable.

Tourists generally visit Ho Chi Minh City in the south, still known as Saigon by the local inhabitants; and Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, in the northern part of the country. Ha Long Bay, a day trip from Hanoi, is a must see and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other interesting places along the long narrow country include Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hue, the former imperial city of Vietnam.

Beaches are another reason that people enjoy visiting Vietnam, and Nha Trang is probably Vietnam’s most famous beach town. It had been a small fishing village, but during the colonial period the French saw that the bay with its islands and white sandy beaches would make a perfect seaside resort. Voila! Nha Trang was born!

Nha Trang is located on the main railroad line that connects Ho Chi Minh City in the south with Hanoi in the north, so this is one reason why it is popular: it’s easy to get to. And, in addition to the beautiful beaches, the coral reefs offshore are spectacular, so Nha Trang is the scuba diving center of Vietnam.

Beside the long beach is a promenade with palm trees and this is pleasant place for a stroll. Most of the tourist related activities are in the southern part of Nha Trang in an area called Biet Thu. Visitors will enjoy exploring Cho Dam Market. Many people rent bicycles because Nha Trang is very flat.

When you are finished swimming and scuba diving, what else is there to see and do in Nha Trang? Plenty!

First on the list is the Long Son Pagoda. Here there is an 80 foot high white statue of Buddha: it’s huge! There is a vegetarian restaurant here in case you need to grab something to eat.

The Po Nagar Cham Towers are another must see in Nha Trang. Built during the Cham dynasty between the 7th and 12th century, they are four brick towers that honor the mother of the kingdom, or “Yang Ino Po Ngar.” The sweet aroma of incense tells you that this is still a sacred site to the local people even though the Cham civilization ended long ago. The towers sit on a hill and afford a nice view of Nha Trang’s fishing village.

This fishing village is worth a visit. It is located between the “old bridge” and the “new bridge.” When the boats come in or are going out, it makes for an excellent photo opportunity. It’s also fun to watch the boats and fishermen as they pull in to unload their catch.

There are several museums like the Alexandre Yersin Musuem and the National Oceanographic Museum of Vietnam. Not far from the train station is the Nha Trang Cathedral which dates from the French colonial period.

Vinpearl Resort has several attractions like a water park, an amusement park, an aquarium, and several restaurants. But getting there is also part of the fun: you take a cable car from the harbor to get to the resort!

A little further afield are waterfalls like Ba Ho, Fairy Spring, and Yang Bay Waterfalls; there is also the Thap Ba Hot Springs and Mud Baths.

There are many things to see and do, so add Nha Trang to your tour of Vietnam!

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Posted by: WS
Kunming - The City of Eternal Spring

China is a vast country filled with so many things to see and do that it can be hard to come to decisions about where to go. There are many tours from which to choose and some of these can be reasonably priced and will not break your budget.

Tours often include the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China in Beijing, the country’s capital city; the port city of Shanghai, the most populous city in China; and Xian, the home of the incredible Army of the Terracotta Warriors.

Yunnan is one of several provinces in southwest China, and Kunming is the capital and largest city in this province. It is known as the City of Eternal Spring because it sits at a near-tropical latitude yet at a high altitude. This gives it a pleasant temperate climate, although it can get cold enough to snow sometimes in the winter.

The greater metropolitan area has about 10 million people and is not only an interesting place to visit, but it also serves as a base from which to explore all of the wonders of Yunnan Province. Kunming is the cultural center of the province and has many galleries, museums, universities, and historic sights.

Kunming sits on the northern edge of a large lake called Lake Dian and is surrounded by a landscape filled with temples, limestone hills, and other lakes. It is a modern city, but it also has an old city that was previously walled.

Yuantong Temple is over 1,000 years old: it is the biggest and most important temple in Yunnan Province. This is a working temple and the center of Buddhism in Yunnan. Part of the temple is carved into the side of the mountain.

Another important temple is Tanhua Temple built in 1634. This is one of the most well-known scenic places in the city: the temple has a lotus pond with fish, flower gardens, and many tall trees.

In Daguan Park, the three hundred year old Daguan Pavilion is a square building with three floors and beautiful golden lacquer decorations. From the top floor there is a stunning view of Lake Dian and the Western Mountains.

There are many museums in Kunming including the Kunming City Museum, the Kunming Zoology Museum, the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, the Yunnan Provincial Museum, the Yunnan Railway Museum, and the Yunnan University Wu Mayao Museum of Anthropology.

Some of the sights in the city are the Guandu Old Town with its classical architecture, temples, parks, shops, restaurants, pavilions, and bridges; the Kunming Flower and Bird Market; and the Zhangguanying Secondhand Market which is located in an old warehouse area.

There are several parks like the Green Lake Park with its lotus plants and goldfish; the Jindian Park on the Mingfeng Mountain with its Golden Temple; the Kunming Botanical Gardens with its 4,000 species of plants; and the Western Mountain Forest Reserve with its ancient trees, wildlife, and streams.

But one of the most interesting sights is just outside of Kunming. It is the Shilin National Park, a stone forest that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a karst landscape where the tall limestone rocks look like petrified trees or stalagmites. These stones, over 270 million years old, are a popular tourist destination.

During your tour of China, add Yunnan and Kunming and especially Shilin National Park: you will be amazed at this unique landscape!

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Posted by: WS
Big Buddhist Boudhanath

Nestled in the Himalayas, Nepal is a fascinating and popular tourist destination. There are many affordable tours to this country with its famous architecture, wildlife, scenery, cuisine, and friendly people.

Many tours begin and end in Kathmandu, the capital and largest city of Nepal. There are many things to see and do in Kathmandu as well as nearby Patan. In the Kathmandu Valley there are seven important buildings and monuments that are grouped together and are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

These include the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Patan Durbar Square, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the Pashupati Hindu Temple, the Changu Narayan Hindu Temple, and two Buddhist stupas: Swayambhu and Boudhanath.

A stupa is a mound-like structure that contains Buddhist relics, and is also a place where Buddhists gather to meditate. The Boudhanath stupa just outside of Kathmandu is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world.

Boudhanath is also known as Boudha, Bauddha, Bouddhanath, Baudhanath, Bauddhanath, Khasti, or Khasa Caitya. To the people from Tibet, it is known as Jyarung Khashor.

Built in the 5th century AD, Boudhanath is located on an important ancient trading route between Tibet and the Kathmandu Valley. Merchants from Tibet have prayed and rested here for centuries. And so it was no surprise that when the Chinese took control of Tibet in the 1950s, many Tibetan refugees chose to settle around the giant stupa. There are over 50 Tibetan gompas, or monasteries, around Boudhanath.

Although the stupa is sacred to both the Tibetans and the Nepalese, there is a very strong Tibetan atmosphere around Boudhanath. For example, you will see many Tibetan Buddhist monks in their maroon robes walking around the area. Hundreds of Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze. And there are many restaurants that serve tasty Tibetan food like momos and thukpa.

Buddhists, whether Nepalese or Tibetan, walk three times or more around the stupa as part of their daily routine. As they walk clockwise around Boudhanath they chant the mantra, “Om Mani Padme Hum.” Prayer wheels are also spun in a clockwise direction. At the far side from the main entrance you are permitted to walk up on to the stupa during the daytime.

The mysterious eyes near the top of Boudhanath Stupa look down on visitors. The air is often thick with incense so a visit to this amazing stupa appeals to more than just the sense of sight. Night time is also an interesting time to visit because of the many butter lamps that decorate the stupa.

The stupa is the main attraction, of course, but there are a few other things to see and do in the immediate area. The Targaon Museum has various displays, shops, courtyards, and a restaurant. The Bodhisattva Gallery is located inside this museum: here there are paintings and statues for sale.

Some of the many monasteries are worth visiting. There are beautiful Tibetan Buddhist wall paintings in the Khawalung Monastery near the stupa. Other monasteries include Dilyak, Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery, Kopan, Pullahari, Shechen, and Thrangu. There are also Buddhist nunneries like the Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery.

After visiting Boudhanath, sit down at one of the many nearby restaurants to sample Nepalese or Tibetan cuisine. Some of the restaurants have very nice views over the stupa. Eating some delicious local food and enjoying the view over one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world is something you should not miss on your tour of Nepal!

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Posted by: WS
A Brief History of Bali

There are many reasons why Bali is such a popular tourist destination. There are many tours and these can be quite inexpensive. Bali is famous for its beaches, bright green terraced rice fields, mountains, volcanoes, art, architecture, cuisine, temples, and friendly helpful people.

Most tourists fly into Bali’s international airport near Denpasar, the capital of Bali. The airport is also near Kuta with its popular beach, so many visitors stay in Kuta. Other tourists are interested in exploring other parts of the enchanted island, and these are the people who would benefit most, as they see temples, villages, and other things, by knowing a bit about Bali’s history.

People have been living in Bali for hundreds of thousands of years: ancient tools found in places like the village of Trunyan are evidence of this. They lived in caves and later tools were made from animal or fish bones.

Bali Aga refers to these original inhabitants of Bali. Today there are not many of these people left, but they can mostly be found in the eastern part of the island called Karangasem. Tenganan is one Bali Aga village in Karangasem where visitors can get an idea of what the Bali Aga culture is like. There is another Bali Aga village called Trunyan that is located on the eastern shore of Lake Batur.

Several thousand years ago new groups of people began to settle on Bali. These people came from South China, probably traveling by way of the Philippines and the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. These people cleared some of Bali’s forests in order to establish villages and agriculture. They made pottery and boats, and stone tools that date from around this time have been found near a village called Cekik in the western part of Bali.

In terms of culture and language, these new arrivals, unlike the Bali Aga people, are related to the people from Malaysia, the Philippines, the long archipelago that today makes up the country of Indonesia, and the peoples from various parts of Oceania, the many islands that dot the huge Pacific Ocean.

The first written records in Bali show that Buddhism had arrived by the 8th century AD, and shortly after this Hinduism arrived. Because of the proximity of Java, there was a close connection between Bali and Java, and there were many marriages between Javanese and Balinese royalty. A Buddhist king named Sri Kesari was one of the first known rulers of Bali.

The Majapahit Empire from Java ruled Bali beginning in about 1343 AD. This was the time when Bali was strongly influenced by Javanese culture.

One of the most interesting things about Bali is that, unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali is not Muslim. As Islam arrived in Java, many members of the Javanese royalty fled to Bali and with them they brought their Hindu religion and culture. The Majapahit Empire ruled Bali for five centuries, and Bali remained a Hindu/Animist island in a “sea” of Islam.

The Majapahit Empire was ended by the Dutch in 1908. Bali had become a Dutch colony in the mid-19th century. It was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, and Bali along with the rest of Indonesia finally gained its independence in 1949.

Today visitors to Bali can see many results of its past history, especially in the Hindu temple architecture, arts and crafts, and many other things. Plan your trip to Bali and experience the beauty of this exotic and unique island!

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Posted by: WS
The Music of Laos

Laos is becoming more and more popular with visitors to Southeast Asia. Although it is a small and quiet country, it has much to offer: beautiful scenery, historic cities and sights, delicious food, and friendly helpful people. Laos is not an expensive country to visit and so there are many affordable tours to this delightful country.

Many people visit Vientiane, the capital of Laos and its most populous city; and then they continue north to see Luang Prabang, the former capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are other things to do like engage in outdoor activities in Vang Vieng, visit the historic Plain of Jars, or trek through jungles and visit the villages that are home to ethnic minority hill tribes.

No matter what your goal is in visiting Laos you will probably have an opportunity to hear some of the country’s music. Lao folk music is called “Lam” and it is usually accompanied by an instrument called the “khene.”

The khene is a mouth organ usually made from bamboo. It is played in several countries in Southeast Asia including Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. But it originated in Laos and dates back to the Bronze Age.

There is a legend that the khene was invented by a woman who wanted to imitate a garawek bird, a forest bird. She showed it to the king but he asked her to try again. She worked on it and the second time the king was satisfied.

The khene is a wind instrument, meaning that you hold it and blow air into it. But it does not have a reed like other woodwind instruments, for example the oboe and the clarinet. And, when the player blows air into the small reservoir of the khene, the sound that is produced sounds more like a violin than a wind instrument!

In fact, it is more related to the accordion, concertina, harmonica, and harmonium than it is to a woodwind instrument. These instruments were developed in the 18th century from the Chinese “sheng” an instrument related to the khene.

In Laos the khene can be used in several ways: it can be played as a solo instrument; it can be one instrument in a musical ensemble; and it can be used to accompany Laotian singing.

One popular form of singing is called “mor lam.” This usually involves two singers, one female and one male, accompanied by the khene and other instruments like bells, fiddles, flutes, gongs, hammered dulcimers, jaw harps, several different kinds of lutes, percussive instruments like cymbals, several types of xylophones, and a kind of zither.

The songs of mor lam are often based on poems and their topics are generally about love and the hardships of life in rural Laos. But there is often a good bit of humor thrown in to offset the sadness and seriousness.

Mor lam and Laotian instruments like the khene are always a part of local festivals and ceremonies. Today more modern instruments are being added including electric keyboards, electric guitars, drums, and even saxophones.

In the 18th and 19th centuries as Thailand extended its border to include parts of what are today Laos, the music of Laos began to become a part of Thai culture. It was banned for a while in Thailand, but today, because of the number of Laotian people living in Thailand, you can occasionally hear this music in Thailand.

But it’s best to hear it in the place where it all began. During your tour of Laos, listen: you might be pleased at what you hear!

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Posted by: WS
The Floating Markets of Can Tho

Vietnam is an interesting place to visit with its mixture of old and new. It is an emerging modern country, but yet it is steeped in history. It is not expensive to visit Vietnam, and there are many affordable tours to explore this exotic country.

Many people visit Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in the north and Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, in the south. There are plenty of beaches and other cities to visit along the coast, places like Da Nang, Hoi An, and historic Hue.

The Mekong Delta dominates the southwest part of Vietnam. With a population of over a million people, Can Tho is the largest city in this area. Its name comes from the Vietnamese for “river of poems.”

Can Tho is located on the bigger branch of the Mekong River, the Hau River, and is about three hours from Ho Chi Minh City. People arrive here by car, taxi, motorbike, bus, air, and boat.

Can Tho is known for several things. There are many pagodas here like the Buu Tri Pagoda, the Khmer Pagoda of Munirangsyaram, and the Quang Duc Pagoda, the biggest of the three.

There are several areas of the city that are fun to explore. The Xuan Khanh Quarter is the home of the Quang Duc Pagoda, the Can Tho University with its many students, the Xuan Khanh Market, several churches, and lots of street restaurants where you can try some delicious local fare.

The Hai Ba Trung area is located along the Mekong River. Here there is a riverside park complete with a statue of Ho Chi Minh. There are many hotels and restaurants in this area, and this is a good place to book a tour of the famous floating markets of Can Tho.

Many tours of the floating markets include trips through the complex network of canals in the area. The small boats are able to navigate the narrow canals that larger boats cannot. If you want to give it a try, you can even rent your own boat!

The main floating market is called Cai Rang. It is a wholesale market and a must see with all of its bustling activities. This market takes place near dawn every day in the middle of a wide river far away from the river banks. Here vendors on boats sell food like pho, noodles, and coffee, as well as fruit, agricultural products, and many other goods. This is not a floating market designed only for tourists: this is the real thing. Local people come here to do their shopping.

There are several other floating markets. Phong Dien is a retail market a bit further upstream on the Can Tho River. Phung Hiep is further away in the nearby province of Hau Giang, but is worth visiting if you’re staying in the area for a few days. Even further away is the Tra On Floating Market. Located in the province of Vinh Long, it is about an hour downstream but is worth the trip as it is a small village’s floating market set up near the Cu Lao May island.

Another fun way to see the area is to take a cruise. There are several companies that offer these tours that can be arranged as just a day trip or overnight.

Check out Can Tho and the floating markets during your tour of Vietnam: it’s quite an interesting experience!

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Posted by: WS
The Cuisine of Nepal

Nepal is an exciting place to visit. This small country nestled in the Himalayan Mountain range is full of things to see and do: historic temples and other structures, amazing wildlife, and fantastic scenery including, of course, the Himalayas. And because Nepal is not an expensive place to visit, there are many affordable tours to this unique country.

Tours usually include visits to sights in and around Kathmandu, the capital and largest city of Nepal, as well as visits to nearby Patan and Bhaktapur. Some people enjoy the national parks like Chitwan and Bardia, while others head for treks in the mountains.

What will the food be like during your tour of Nepal?

There are two factors that produce the great variety of food that you will find in Nepal. First, Nepal has many climates and terrains, so there are many different kinds of grains, fruits, and vegetables that grow in each of its many regions. And, second, Nepal is very ethnically diverse, so each group of people brings something special and unique to what makes up Nepalese cuisine.

One dish that you sure to find is dal-bhat-tarkari, something that most people consider to be the national dish of Nepal. Dal is a type of stew made out of a kind of bean or lentil and cooked with some or all of the following: chili, garlic, ginger, onion, tamarind, and tomatoes. Spices are always added: these include coriander, cumin, garam masala, and tumeric.

Bhat is steamed rice, but in some places in Nepal, in the higher elevations above 6500 feet, other grains like barley, buckwheat, corn, or millet are substituted for rice. Roti, a kind of unleavened bread, can also sometimes be substituted for the steamed rice.

Tarkari is a mix of seasonal vegetables. So a typical dal-bhat-tarkari plate includes rice, dal, and several small dishes of vegetables. Sometimes yogurt, chutney, pickles, and a curry of chicken, fish, or goat is added to the plate. Dal-bhat-tarkari is the staple dish of Nepal, so if you want to eat a typical Nepalese meal, this is the one!

There are many other dishes to try. They are all Asian-based and are sometimes influenced by the cuisines of nearby countries like India, Thailand, and Tibet. One popular dish from Tibet is called momo. It is a dumpling that was originally filled with buffalo meat and spices, but has been adapted in Nepal and is now usually filled with chicken, goat meat, or just vegetables.

Most restaurants in the cities have tables and chairs, but if you happen to eat with a family out in the countryside or in a small village, you will have another experience.

First you must wash your hands as food is eaten with the hands, but specifically the right hand. The left hand can only be used to pick up cup or glass.

Diners sit on the floor where the food is served. It starts, of course, with a large mound of bhat, or a pile of roti, on a thali which is a large rimmed plate. This mound of rice is surrounded by small mounds of cooked vegetables, chutney, pickles, yogurt, and sometimes meat or fish. Everyone digs in with their right hand. Soupy dal is usually served in separate small bowls.

Delicious! And don’t forget to wash your hands after your meal!

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Posted by: WS
Tanah Lot - Temple on a Rock

Bali is an exciting and popular tourist destination. Visitors come from all over the world to visit this enchanted and exotic island. Tours to Bali abound, and many of these are very affordable.

There are many reasons to visit Bali. Some people enjoy the sunshine, the sand, and the warm water at Bali’s many beaches. Other people enjoy exploring the island to experience the natural beauty, while others are interested in having a cultural experience looking at Balinese arts and crafts, or visiting some of the many Hindu temples that dot the island.

Tanah Lot is one such temple and, because of its unique setting, it is one of the most popular temples to visit, especially in the late afternoon for the breathtaking sunset views.

Most people arrive at Bali’s international airport in the southern part of the island. Nearby is Kuta Beach, a popular tourist destination, and Denpasar, the capital of Bali and its largest city.

From this area, Pura Tanah Lot, or Tanah Lot Temple, is only about a 45 minute drive on the southwest coast of the island. In the Balinese language, “Tanah Lot” means “land in the sea.” This refers to the fact that the temple sits on top of a rock just offshore.

It is believed that the much-revered Dang Hyang Nirartha built the temple in the 16th century. He was a Hindu traveler and priest who moved from the island of Java to Bali, and was responsible for building many Hindu temples in Bali.

Legend says that as he traveled along the south coast of Bali, he came upon a rock-island just offshore and admired its beauty. After sleeping on top of the rock one night, he told the local fisherman that it was a holy place, and that they should build a shrine at the top so that Balinese sea gods could be worshipped there.

Pura Tanah Lot is one of seven sea temples in this area. They were built so that each one could be seen from the next: they form a chain of sea temples along the southwest coast of Bali. Pura Batu Bolong, one of the other sea temples, is a very short walk from Pura Tanah Lot.

There are several myths about Pura Tanah Lot. One is that it is guarded by a giant snake that was made from the sash that Nirartha wore the night he slept on the rock-island. The other myth is that the temple is guarded by a number of venomous sea snakes.

The walkway leading down towards the temple is filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. There are also restaurants on the top of the cliff looking down over the sea, and these are good places to try some delicious Balinese food.

Just before walking down to the sea, there is a sunny and pleasant garden where you can get your photo taken while holding or supporting a giant non-venomous but quite alive snake!

During low tide, you can walk across to the bottom of the rock-island. But the best views are from the cliffs above, and specifically at sunset. The area can become quite crowded in the late afternoon and early evening as everyone waits for the spectacular view of the sun setting in the west with Pura Tanah Lot in the foreground.

This is one temple you should not miss during your tour of Bali!

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Posted by: WS
Banlung - Eastern Cambodia

Cambodia is a popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia mostly because of the world-famous temple of Angkor Wat at Siem Reap. There are many tours to Cambodia, and, as it is not an expensive place to visit, tours can be quite reasonably priced.

People who visit Cambodia might check out the capital city of Phnom Penh after visiting Angkor Wat; others might take in the fresh air at one of the many beaches along the Gulf of Thailand at Sihanoukville.

Most of Cambodia’s tourist destinations are in the northern, western, or southern areas of the country. But what about the eastern region that borders Laos and Vietnam? Is there anything to see in this part of Cambodia?

Eastern Cambodia is made up of several provinces. Banlung is a small town with a population of less than 20,000 people, but it serves as the capital of the province of Ratanakiri. Banlung was once known as Labansiek, but since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, it has been known as Banlung.

This province, like most of Eastern Cambodia, is made up of large tracts of forests along with small villages that are the homes of about a dozen ethnic minority groups, as well as small fields and plantations for growing things like cashews, oil palms, and rubber. All of this combines to give Banlung and the surrounding area a feel that you are the edge of civilization!

In Banlung you will probably notice that there are a lot of vendors selling gemstones. This area of Cambodia is known for its gem mines. Not far from town you can visit the Bokeo gem mines: you can even buy gemstones at the mine!

Most visitors use either a bicycle or a motorcycle to tour Banlung and other sights in the area. Although it is a busy little commercial town, other than the town market, there is not much to see in Banlung itself. But not far from the town there are several points of interest.

Not far from the town is a temple called Wat Rahtanharahm sitting at the base of Eisey Patamak Mountain. A short walk up the hill beyond the temple leads you to a giant Buddha statue and great views over the countryside.

The Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake is a 700,000 year old volcanic crater lake. It is located in a protected area and the lake along with the surrounding area is considered to be sacred by the ethnic tribes who live in the area.

Next to the lake there is a small village where you can watch women make traditional Cambodian scarves. You can swim in the lake: there are many docks. Picnicking is also a popular thing to do along Yeak Laom Lake. There is a visitors center that displays local objects and explains some of the legends about the lake.

There are several waterfalls in the area and they also deserve a visit. The highest waterfall is Cha Ong, and this is the most visited waterfall in the Banlung area. Because of erosion over the years, it is possible to walk behind this waterfall.

Another waterfall is called Kan Chang: this waterfall is also popular because it empties into a pool where you can swim. Other waterfalls include Ka Tieng, where, like Kan Chang, you can swim; and Ou’Sean Lair and Ou’Sensranoh Waterfalls.

If you are interested in these waterfalls, try to time your visit during the rainy season so that you can experience the full impact of the rushing water!

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Posted by: WS
A Brief History of China

There are many tours to China because it is such a huge and fascinating country to visit. Many of these tours are not expensive: this makes it affordable for most people to see the amazing sights of this great country.

Most tours concentrate on sights like the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing as well as other places of interest like Shanghai, the Yangtze River, and Xian, the home of the Army of Terracotta Warriors.

Any visit to China will raise questions about its history, so it’s a good idea to learn a bit about China’s past before you start your tour.

China’s prehistory includes fossils of the “Peking Man” who is known to have used fire. It also includes the earliest examples of the Chinese writing system.

When you think about China’s history, the word “dynasties” is one of the first things that comes to mind. A large part of China’s history was dominated by dynasties and their rulers.

Some people believe that the Xia Dynasty was the first to rule China starting around 2,100 BC, but scientists are not sure. The Shang Dynasty is the earliest one that can be confirmed: it ruled over the Yellow River plain from the 17th to the 11th century BC. The Zhou Dynasty conquered the Shang and ruled from the 11th to the 5th century BC.

This dynasty became weak, so there were several hundred years when China was split up between seven kingdoms. In 221 BC, when one of these, the Qin, conquered the other six kingdoms, the leader, Qin Shi Huang, named himself emperor of China: this was the beginning of “Imperial China.”

Qin introduced many reforms to China like standardizing the language, currency, and measurements. But his dynasty only lasted 15 years, to be followed by the most famous of all Chinese dynasties: the Han Dynasty.

This dynasty is very important: today’s Chinese people identify with the culture that sprang from the Han Dynasty. China was expanded during the Han Dynasty from 206 BC to 220 AD: at this time it included parts of Central Asia, Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam. It was during this dynasty that the famous “Silk Road” was created: the Han Dynasty became the biggest economic power of the ancient world!

There were many years of disunity after the Han Dynasty ended. The next important dynasty was the Song Dynasty that ruled from 960 to 1279. This dynasty was the first government in the world to create a permanent navy and to use paper money. This was also a time when the arts grew.

The Mongols invaded China in the 13th century and Kublai Khan created the Yuan Dynasty. Surprisingly, a peasant overthrew the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 and began the Ming Dynasty. Like the Song Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty was another golden age of prosperity. During the Ming Dynasty the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing.

The last dynasty was the Qing Dynasty which ruled from 1644 to 1912. Towards the end of this dynasty there were many wars and rebellions. Many Chinese began to leave. The Republic of China was established in 1912.

During World War II, China was occupied by Japanese forces. After World War II ended, there was a civil war until the Communist Party won in 1949: the Republic of China became the People’s Republic of China.

Eventually China opened up and tourism began to flourish. And today you have many options as you begin to plan your tour of China!

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Posted by: WS
Ayutthaya - Former Capital of Thailand

Thailand offers many wonderful things to see and do. There are many tours from which to choose, and many of these are quite inexpensive. This popular country in Southeast Asia has cosmopolitan cities, pristine beaches, exciting wildlife, delicious food, and many historic sights.

One of these sights is Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, or Thailand. It is about an hour north of Bangkok, and so it makes a popular tourist destination for visitors who are staying in Bangkok, but who want to see something quite different and unique.

The first capital of Siam was Sukhothai which is located further north. Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam and was founded in 1350. By 1700, Ayutthaya was the largest city in the world with a population of over one million people. How did this happen?

Location! Location! Location! Ayutthaya sits on the Chao Phraya River which travels south and eventually empties into the Gulf of Thailand. Because it sat between China, India, and the Malay Archipelago, it became the trading capital of Asia.

Ayutthaya was visited by merchants from Arabia, China, France, India, Japan, the Netherlands, and Portugal. These foreigner merchants and visitors marveled at the beauty of the city with its golden palaces, exotic ceremonies, and huge fleet of ships.

All of this trade and wealth came to a screeching halt in 1767 when the neighboring Burmese attacked and destroyed Ayutthaya. Within a few years Rama I, the King of Siam, chose a small trading post further down the Chao Phraya River for his new capital city: Bangkok.

Although the Burmese nearly burnt the whole city down, there are still evidences of the former grandeur of Ayutthaya. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

The old historic city actually sits on an island at the spot where three rivers meet: the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River, and the Pa Sak River. Most of the points of interest for visitors will be found on the northwest part of the island.

There are temples, monasteries, and prang which are towers that contain relics. The biggest temple is Wat Phra Si Sanphet. It is easy to recognize this wat, or temple, because of its row of large chedis, or stupas which contain Buddhist relics. This temple once sat within the grounds of the palace and was only used for royal ceremonies. It also once housed an enormous golden statue of Buddha which the Burmese melted down for other uses.

Another interesting wat to visit is Wat Phra Mahathat. Here you will see a row of headless statues of Buddha and the place where a tree has grown around the head of a Buddha statue.

Other wats include Wat Borom Phuttharam, Wat Phra Ram, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Thammikarat, and a modern wat called Wat Suwan Dararam. Other sights include the Phet Fortress with its ruined walls, and several museums.

One popular way to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok is by cruise boat. This takes a whole day but is worth it if you have the time. You get to see life along both sides of the Chao Phraya River as the boat travels from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. Some tours offer overnight trips.

Taking an elephant ride is a popular things to do while exploring Ayutthaya. An umbrella provides shade while the mahout guides you and your elephant around the island.

If you’re in Bangkok, take a half day or full day trip to see Ayutthaya, former capital of Siam!

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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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Posted by: WS
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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Posted by: WS
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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Posted by: WS
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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Posted by: WS
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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Posted by: WS
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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Posted by: WS
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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Posted by: WS
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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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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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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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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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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Posted by: WS
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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