Tuesday
Sep212010

malaysia: penang, pearl of the orient

Georgetown, Penang

A bit of a washout on the beach front, Penang scores points for its diversity. The Malaysian island set off the peninsular mainland's northwestern coast is a classic multicultural hotchpotch.

Seemingly every nation you can imagine, from India to Holland, has made its mark on the island. The repeated immigration is reflected by a wide genetic social mix, a mosaic of temples representing every faith you can think of, exotic gardens, and a rich choice of food.

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Thursday
Sep162010

australia: sydney 5 great cruises

Since the 2000 Olympics, Sydney city has climbed in cost and faded from fashion. Still, the Australian city retains some formidable attractions – not least the world’ most attractive harbour network. 

Any ride on a chunky green ferry integrated into the public transport system beats the bus by a mile. 

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Tuesday
Sep142010

hanoi: the giant turtle of hoan kiem lake

Hoan Kiem Lake Turtle

Some observers dispute its existence. Like Scotland's suspiciously camera-shy Loch Ness Monster, the turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's heart is elusive: a fleeting creature intertwined with myth and speculation.

Still, almost certainly, some turtle occupies the picturesque, willow-fringed lake that serves as the city's cultural hub.  A smattering of photographs supports the notion.

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Tuesday
Sep072010

malaysia: snake temple, penang

Snake Temple, Penang

Food, food, food – that is the standard take on the Malaysian island of Penang. Food and a serving of history.

But Penang has at least one other extraordinary angle: a landmark on the fringes of town called Snake Temple, which – you guessed it – is riddled with snakes.

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Thursday
Sep022010

malaysia: langkawi jewel of kedah

If you feel suspicious of resorts with fancy nicknames, join the club. But Langkawi – an Andaman Sea archipelago some 30 kilometres off mainland Malaysia – just about lives up to its billing as the “jewel” of the state of Kedah.

Sheltered by peninsular Malaysia's mountainous backbone, the archipelago escapes the north eastern winter monsoon and enjoys sunny skies in winter when the eastern provinces are flooded. Featuring pristine jungle, natural white sand beaches and craggy peaks, it is a recognised “geopark” blessed with a wealth of wildlife. The lineup runs the gamut from otters to a quirky bird called the “racket-tailed drongo”.

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Monday
Aug302010

songkhla: hat yai insider guide

Simila beach Koh Noo Kho Meaw

While not the most obvious Thai destination on the international traveler's itinerary, Hat Yai does have its fair share of attractions for those passing through. This southern border city is the third largest metropolis in Thailand after Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and is visited mainly by Malaysian holiday-makers and people there on business (this is also a major transport and import/export city).

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Thursday
Aug262010

italy: florence in four days

David statue by Michelangelo in Florence

Europeans take so much for granted. They have an entire continent of little countries practically on their doorstep and will therefore never know the anguish of cramming as many of them as possible into a two-week vacation. They spend their entire lives 'doing' Europe and should they one day venture farther afield than the French Rivera, the Balearic Islands or Tuscany or the Swiss Alps or Amsterdam or London or any number of other amazing iconic places, they have six weeks per year in which to do it and the world's strongest currency to play with.

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Tuesday
Aug242010

krabi: top five

Krabi's name could hardly be less appealing. Inevitably, it makes you think of that word that means "annoyed and irritable" (crabby).

Despite that discouraging sign, the southern Thai town-slash-state (www.krabi-tourism.com) has plenty to put you in a relaxed frame of mind. Equipped with countless beaches and bays, Krabi is largely unspoiled -– lush but imposing thanks to the presence of monster megaliths: spectacular limestone 'karst' formations.

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Thursday
Aug192010

hong kong: tian tan the giant buddha 

Tian Tan - Giant Buddha in Hong KongBetter known for its business buzz and megamalls, Hong Kong also hosts one of Asia's most striking spiritual statues. Meet the Tian Tan Buddha.

Set on Hong Kong's largest island, Lantau – a day trip away from downtown Hong Kong – the Tian Tan Buddha boasts epic proportions. This extension of the squat and diagonal Po Lin ("precious lotus") temple soars 34 meters into the sky. Just to raise its height and make other Buddha statues more noted for girth feel inferior, the Tian Tan perches on a lotus throne atop a soaring 268-step staircase.

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Tuesday
Aug172010

malaysia: amazing melaka

Melaka, Malaysia

Often described as "sleepy", Melaka is actually humming. The old Malaysian spice port that hovers midway between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore lures hordes of travelers drawn by its rich mix of shopping, food and history. 

Melaka is awash with ethnic eateries, quirky boutiques and colonial relics resulting from countless invasions. The relics that most catch the eye are the shocking-pink church and administrative buildings constructed by the Dutch during their day.

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